It’s too early to tell if the recent signing of free-jazz titan David S. Ware to Columbia Records is a harbinger of the music’s popular elevation or just an anomaly. The imprimatur of Branford Marsalis, who made Ware his first acquisition as Columbia’s creative consultant, will doubtlessly garner the tenor saxophonist some extra attention–he’s already received a boatload of press for his new Go See the World–and the energy and sweep of his music are a big reason jazz has won over so many bored rock fans in the last few years. But how far up the mainstream can Ware swim? The new record makes plain that he doesn’t consider this his concern. Along with his powerhouse group–bassist William Parker, pianist Matthew Shipp, and drummer Susie Ibarra–Ware has made an album as daring or more so than his dozen or so previous albums as a leader. Where most jazzers use tunes as controlled vehicles for improvisation, Ware uses them as launchpads into the abyss, and the beauty of the quartet’s work is in hearing it navigate its way through the void. Though this MO of course guides Ware’s originals, it’s perhaps most apparent on the new album’s stirring version of “The Way We Were”–knowing the standard, it’s easy to hear how it gets picked apart. Like his mentor Sonny Rollins, Ware knows how to work every kink out of a single motif; where he differs from Rollins is that he invites the rest of the players to have at it simultaneously. Few working groups are so consistently and genuinely galvanizing live. Friday, 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600. PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by David Katzenstein.