David S. Ware String Ensemble – Threads (2003)

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David S. Ware felt it was time to focus on his abilities as a composer. As he puts it: “I didn’t want to make another quartet album with everybody blowing. There are enough records with me blowing my brains out.”

Now personally, I love it when Ware blows his brains out. Just check out “Lexicon” from Go See The World. That … is some serious blowing. There’s some meat on it. While it doesn’t cross the line into, say, Peter Brotzman territory, it does build up a good bit of skronkology.

The selections on Threads were nothing like most previous Ware Quartet material. First of all, the instrumentation was not what you’d consider typical for jazz with the addition of viola whiz Mat Maneri and Daniel Bernard Roumain on violin. Quartet alums William Parker (bass) and Matthew Shipp were here, with Shipp on “Korg Triton Pro X” (parenthetically described as: “string pads and various piano settings”). Rounding out the group was Guillermo E. Brown on drums.

So, on to the important part … what’s this all add up to? Well, not Charlie Parker with Strings. Not Sketches of Spain. Not even Variants on a Theme of Thelonious Monk. No, what Ware put together was a collection of meditations on his own themes. New ones. Each track presented a slowly unfolding theme. As that musical base material was repeated the other instruments supported it, reacted to it, and fed off of it. It may have taken a while for the whole story to reveal itself, but it was worth the wait (and the ‘trip’ itself, was interesting). Oddly enough, this music reminds me of a kaleidoscope. The theme defines the basic shape early on, and then the secondary instruments move in to change the colors.

Oh … those ‘themes’? I didn’t mean to suggest that Ware’s tenor was responsible for stating them. Not at all. On the opener “Ananda Rotation,” it was Parker’s bowed bass along with the strings. On “Sufic Passages” it was Parker’s bass alone. “Weave I” began with drums. And the closing “Weave II” was kicked off by Ware’s sax.

By scattering the timbral center of each tune, Ware has managed to create a suite of music that keeps the listener in suspense. The ear is waiting for a repetition of an earlier ‘situation’ and is ‘disappointed.’ And that’s a good thing. For music fans with a lust for new sounds, this is food.

The title track was a pure string ensemble piece that’s the most classically-oriented selection. In many ways, it reminds me of Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3. That’s a good thing too. The slowly building and evolving theme, while a model for the album as a whole, takes on a very elegiac nature when presented by the strings alone.

I want to say that this is now my favorite David S. Ware record … but playing favorites is tough when you’re dealing with such dissimilar material. Let’s just say that Ware’s need to focus on his compositional talents was a big success.

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Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he originated several of our weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Mark Saleski
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