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David S. Ware Quartet: Third Ear Recitation

[Liner notes by Ben Ratliff:]

One evening after a rehearsal in 1974, David S. Ware lay on his bed in the Canal Street apartment he was sharing with a few other musicians, and briefly heard the music of the spheres.

"It was just like somebody turned on the radio. I heard music. But it wasn't coming from anywhere; it was coming from within me. I heard spontaneous music, accompanied with color. It was multi-rhythmic, that's for sure. It wasn't like a tune where you have one melody accompanied by one rhythm; it was like all encompassing rhythms and melodies, a thousand or million of 'em going at one time. It was a very short experience, only three to five seconds at the most. Just enough to let me know that it was there."

That experience and that music was the indication of something Ware had long been interested in: the idea that music isn't created, but lives independently of us, and that we can draw from it to play it when we have the proper knowledge. "Another way to put it," he explained to me, "is that there is a universal reservoir of music; it's music that exists, somewhere in the deep regions of the universe, and I don't mean out there, I mean in here, within. Myriad creative composers over the centuries have tapped this reservoir. It's music that exists already, apart from but connected to our being. It's my understanding that all music comes from that place."

The title of this record, David's second for DIW, may need a little explanation. All that's really meant by the "third ear" is a subtle, more refined sense of hearing. When it's cultivated, one can begin to hear the "inner music" - the spiritual language of music. "The refinement of all five senses is an integral part of the spiritual path, and I'm only singling out the sense of hearing," he says. "This has to be seen in the overall context of spiritual development. When you grasp the inner meaning of music, you can hear on a level where music takes you somewhere within yourself; it puts you somewhere." (The experience above, as you've probably guessed, was "in the realm of the third ear.") A "recitation," of course, is a reading of something that already exists - whether it's tangible (on paper) or intangible (in the mind). So Ware is using his third ear to tell you what he knows.

The method of Ware's working quartet - which has changed since his previous DIW recording, Flight of i, only in that Whit Dickey has replaced Marc Edwards on drums - is nothing if not thorough. The music on this record was in preparation for five months, an unusually long time for a jazz record or any kind of record. It unfolded over a period of perhaps fifty rehearsals, gaining delicacy, momentum, and density. Density, in particular, is Ware's natural inclination: his tone is among the broadest of tenor saxophonists working today, his lines contain a great amount of notes, and he prefers a deeply enmeshed ensemble sound as well. "It's just the way that my nervous system translates to my fingers. It runs along the same course as my harmonic sense and melodic sense, but more my harmonic sense. There's no space in between the notes; it's like they melt into one another. Each note slides; it blends, it bends, for me." The final affect of these pieces is a worked-in feeling; they're gem-like, like the later Rouault paintings, where whimsical, light-handed strokes and layers of darker oils aren't at odds with one another. This music sounds like a felicitous meeting of lifelong preparation and flashed spontaneity.

Two takes of "Autumn Leaves" are included here not because of subtle differences, but because of basic ones. In the first, Matthew Shipp comps the melody at a stately pace, staying absolutely true to the textbook; he does not solo. Ware, meanwhile, is playing what he calls "state-of-the-art" tenor - the territory of highly refined sound. Notice that he's not just describing the curve of the melody in his flurries of notes; he's always playing the changes. And in this piece especially, Ware's not just playing the changes, but the overtones of the notes of the melody. In the second version, Ware opens with a solo and the band enters on a completely different tack: this time Shipp solos right after Ware's unaccompanied intro; William Parker develops a plucked solo out of a long arco passage, and then returns to bowing; and Dickey's playing is much sparser. Notice Ware's way of creating tension, especially in the out-chorus of the second version: he balances an almost ballad-style reading of the melody with a superimposition of his "dense" style. The positioning of the more reverential version first isn't necessarily "introductory" - it's just one of the thousands of ways of hearing the tune.

When most musicians want to play a Sonny Rollins "standard," they go for "St. Thomas," or "Airegin," or "Oleo" - something Rollins nailed permanently, something which will never shake off Rollins' touch. Ware, who learned circular breathing from Rollins at the age of sixteen, and upon whom Rollins probably made more of an impression than any other tenor player, went to "East Broadway Run Down," a piece that's really just a short, wriggly motif. But it's the kind of Rollins piece that directly affected Ware's own writing. The Ware group takes it at almost twice the tempo Rollins did (on the album of the same name in 1966), and makes the motif drive like a bullet.

After the first time Ware rehearsed the composition which he was to title "Mystic March," he went home, listened back to the tape, and saw an image. "It's a group of very spiritually advanced human beings moving through space and time. They're maintaining their cadence, their march, through all that comes: wars, famines, droughts, going from one age to another, and they're maintaining their march, their flow. Whit, playing in an militaristic character as a metaphor for staying unaffected, isn't changed by Matthew's and William's stride; they're playing in a slightly different meter. They do catch him at times, but I wanted Whit to maintain the march and stay strong."

Ware loves the standard "Angel Eyes" for its melody - another predominantly minor-key melody, like "Autumn Eyes." ("The melody is always my guide," Ware instructed the band before take one. "I don't care how far out I get, if I'm not following some part of the melody, then I'm not there.") But the minor third is one of the basic ingredients of Ware's music; even when the melody is technically major, the minor concept runs through all his music, given all the harmonics and half-tones involved.

The four shorter pieces on the record were originally conceived as parts of three long suites Ware wrote for the record. Up until the time of recording, Ware rehearsed the band to play the suites in the form he composed them, but at the time of making the record, Ware reconsidered and found most of the chapters within the suites complete in themselves. "Third Ear Recitation" is structured from two lines, played by Ware, Shipp and Parker in various positions to each other. To Ware, the lines "relate like male and female"; the piece is built upon the idea of parallel universes, "realities that both sustain each other and remain distinct." "Free Flow Dialogue" is another of Ware's jolted motif pieces, and it's a good game of catch: in it you can hear how Whit Dickey is able to pick up Ware's rhythms and incorporate them into whatever pattern he's developing, and vice versa.

The devotional-sounding "Sentient Compassion," Ware explains, comes with a dedication to "a sentient being named Willie, who I'm sure will be able to find his way into another body and continue on. Sentient compassion is a must; it has to be developed in order to alleviate cruelty and thoughtless acts. That won't happen if you develop a sense of compassion. You'll have that connectedness, that knowing that the same life that's in you is in every other being, so you're not going to mishandle life." Finally, "The Chase" is dedicated to Ware's friend Beaver Harris, who died in December 1991 - an excellent drummer who firmly believed that tradition could be extended in almost any direction. "Beaver considered himself to be the link between so-called 'avant-garde' drumming and the more straight-ahead styles," Ware says. "And I would have to go along with him. Because Beaver could play on what I call a horizontal plane, and he could also play free. Not that other so-called free drummers could not play horizontally; they could. But whenever Beaver did it, it seemed like he really loved it. Some cats do it, but they don't do it because they love it; they do it because they want people to know that they can play like that. 'The Chase' is a horizontal piece; the music is moving in a horizontal plane." Ware tends naturally to explain his music in metaphysical terms; another word for the "horizontal plane" is swing.

David believes it was Beaver Harris who gave him some of his most important disciplinary directives as a musician. Harris had played with Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, Albert Ayler and Archie Shepp; through Harris' teaching in the mid-1970s, David started to become aware that the whole posture of the music changes, depending on what meter you're executing it in. To use that kind of logic is one of the cornerstones of modern saxophone playing. By talking about these things and having acts actually demonstrate them before me, Beaver really made me more aware of this."

But that music of the spheres - was it Ware's music?

"No." He repeated this, softly and unequivocally, eight times. "Like no music I've ever heard. But I'll tell you something, I'll tell you this. If you've ever checked out symphony orchestras when they tune up on television, well, to me, that is the most interesting part of the performance. That might give you an idea of it. When I'm listening to an orchestra, and they're tuning up?" He sang a note loudly as if a hundred instruments were playing it - sounding a bit like what preachers call speaking in tongues. "Oh, man! That is the most interesting part, right there!

Liner notes by Ben Ratliff
Transcribed by Justin James Kau


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