David S. Ware Credit: David Katzenstein

I first heard tenor saxophonist David S. Ware in 1988, when he released the trio album Passage to Music (Silkheart), whose scalding free jazz arrived like a bolt from the blue—simultaneously a throwback to the golden age of the 1960s “new thing” and a thoroughly contemporary, no-holds-barred manifestation of sonic seeking. I became a huge fan, and followed Ware as he turned the trio into a quartet with the addition of Matthew Shipp and moved from the great Japanese label DIW to Columbia Records in the late 90s (thanks to the advocacy of fan Branford Marsalis). Ware’s intense, highly personal music failed to reach a large audience, and after his relationship with Columbia ended, he spent the rest of his career working with Steven Joerg—first at Homestead and then at Aum Fidelity.

Not long after discovering Ware, I located a copy of his first album under his own name, Birth of a Being—a marvelous trio session cut for Hat Art in 1977 and released in ’79, with pianist Cooper-Moore and drummer Marc Edwards. The trio was called Apogee, and the musicians had started it in Boston in 1970, after meeting at the Berklee School of Music. (Apogee was inactive for long stretches in the late 70s, after Ware moved to New York and began working in groups led by drummer Andrew Cyrille and pianist Cecil Taylor.) Birth of a Being had been out of print for more than three decades when Aum Fidelity reissued it on CD for the first time last fall, adding a second disc of outtakes and other unreleased material cut at the same session.

Those recordings, though from early in Ware’s career—he was in his late 20s—can stand with anything he created in the next three and a half decades. (He died in 2012 at age 62 from complications of a life-saving 2009 kidney transplant.) Until these sessions Apogee had rehearsed and performed without tunes—they played bruising free improvisation with unbridled energy. But for the album, Ware brought in some themes, none more striking than that of gospel-flavored opener “Prayer,” which begins as a tender, richly lyrical ballad and builds into a seething conflagration. The previously unissued material also includes “Ashimba,” a solo piece by Cooper-Moore on an unnamed instrument of his own design that sounds like a balafon (he started making his own instruments at around this time, and still does so today), and “Solo,” which is Ware all by himself. Below you can check out “Prayer.”

YouTube video

Today’s playlist:

Hedvig Mollestad Trio, Enfant Terrible (Rune Grammofon)
Teddy Charles, Salute to Hamp (Bethlehem)
Partial, LL (Another Timbre)
Møster!, Inner Earth (Hubro)
Keith Jarrett, Death and the Flower (Impulse)