By Martin Schray
With the first sound of David S. Ware’s saxophone you can see it coming. It seems to be far out in the sea but it is there. You know it, you hear it, you feel it. You can watch the waves mount up, towering. It is coming at high speed to get you, it is inevitable. Whether you choose to submerge yourself in this music and explore its subtexts or try to defy its power and its fury, it's an elemental roar that nails you to your seat.
Free jazz at its best is like a wave just about to break, this is the moment the players have to make last - the moment of the greatest power, the highest concentration, the purest communication. Usually it takes some time to build up that wave (or to find that moment) but Planetary Unknown - David S. Ware (sax), Cooper-Moore (p), William Parker (b) and Muhammad Ali (dr) – only need a few seconds.
They seem to start from scratch, as if they could not wait to begin. You are immediately confronted with the wonderful tone Ware has, one of the real voices in jazz. He knows what he is capable of, a master of his instrument (which is an extension of his soul to him) being aware of the huge reservoir of music there is in his world, feeling absolutely free to play what he has to play - strong, uncompromising, trying to get to the “essential essence of sound” (as William Parker put it). And then there is his new band. Just listen to Parker and Muhammad Ali and how unbelievably tight they play (who says a free jazz combo can’t swing?). With Cooper-Moore playing clusters and Taylor-like lines you are hit by a storm of whiplashes and hailstones dropping on glass. They create an immense wall of sound.
Not only is the band tight, they are also incredibly fast, almost breathless in what they do. Cooper-Moore once said that you have to have heart and stamina to play this music, you have to have the will to play it because the music is hard, it is not easy. And William Parker added that this music was a journey, you could not resist it, you had to allow it to flow through you. You had to let it meld with what you don’t know so that it becomes another entity. All of it is in Planetary Unknown’s sound: in one sequence they can be full, rich, earthy, and warm but also boisterous, shrill, Ware is overblowing his sax when he is shrieking in the high registers, they sound like angry 25-year-olds when they combine pure outbursts of energy with instrumental mastership.
After 15 minutes Ware takes a break, leaving space for the piano trio to excel, which proves that the trio itself is a wonderful collective, they could be a marvelous group on their own, although Ware is definitely the leader, the one who is focused, who drags the others along - he is the captain of the ship. When the track literally calms down, when it comes down to the bass accompanied by some spare chips of piano and drums, it almost stops, stripped to the bone. Then Ware comes back and gives orders for a new direction (in this case a sax trio). With Cooper-Moore re-entering the wave builds up again and what Ware plays here is simply incredible, he pulls out all the stops (for example in an awe-inspiring circular breathing part which ends part one). Here the band is playing on a level only to be compared with Cecil Taylor’s legendary Unit.
The pieces on this album are called “Precessional 1 – 3”. Precessional means “a comparatively slow gyration of the rotation axis of a spinning body about another line intersecting it so as to describe a cone”. If you replace “slow” by “high speed” then this is what this album is about on the one hand. But on the other hand it is (as every Ware album) about spirituality, about finding a spiritual reality that exists out there in contrast to materiality. In times of a financial crisis this album (and with it spirituality) has a political dimension as well, it gives the world meaning. This can be heard in “Precessional 3”, a dark blues of John-Coltrane-dimensions, mournful, proud, of majestic beauty.
Ware says that spirituality is what you are and music is what you do. Just because there is a lot of experience in this band their music can be 100 percent intuitive, very refined, and spontaneous.
I really felt sad when Ware came to an end with his legendary quartet with Matthew Shipp, William Parker and Guillermo E. Brown. But – my god – he has replaced it with another supergroup.