Rod Stewart recorded his version of the American Songbook, Smokey Robinson has put down some "jazz standards" and now the Davis S. Ware Quartet thrust into the scene a recording of ballads from a 1999 European tour date on Balladware. This is all very good because the quartet had its final performance at the Vision Festival last summer and we need a means to preserve the many tangents this group has followed throughout its evolution.
The ballad format is a surprisingly comfortable one for the quartet of Ware on tenor, Matthew Shipp on piano, William Parker on bass and Guillermo Brown on drums. The record is balanced with recognizable tunes and compositions by David S. Ware we might not recognize.
The group plays with a low level of energy which renders the music extraordinarily placid. Ware’s horn often dominates with characteristically huge blustery low tones that arch into high-pitched quasi squealing, but that is simply Ware letting go. He moves liquidly from one place to the next using many arpeggios to do so. Ware doing familiar songs lifts them out of a range of familiarity. His normally strident insistence tends to evaporate for moments at a time.
Parker’s contribution on the bass is unlike I have ever heard before. The one singled-out pizzicato demonstrates the bass’s broad resonance. The instrument is plucked at a very slow pace. Loosely woven into the music, his playing behaves coincidentally with the musically peaceful atmosphere.
There is no doubt that Shipp plays the piano, offering those hammered single notes, deep discrete chordal phrasings and lithe bright treble tremolos and runs. When he backs up Ware, Shipp treats the keys with gentleness and caring and even a bit of flowery-ness. The way in which Shipp states the melody of "Autumn Leaves" is downright classical and in "Gospellized", the melody swings.
It is remarkable that this is the first time that Brown worked with the group. His tackling this elongated and flexible set of music produces a delicate cymbal accentuation that pervades the sound texture. The thump of the tom or bass drum becomes a pick-me-up within the languor.
A key to hearing this recording is to note that the members of Ware’s quartet are playing out how they feel rather than how they believe the audience would expect them to play. The titles of Ware’s compositions and the dedication of the liner notes alone will tell us of his state of awareness, his willingness to impart it to the listener and his fellow band mates. As a result, the group unveils a valuable sliver of its personality.