by Howard Hampton

David S. Ware could be the last of a vanishing breed—those imposing tenor giants who once bestrode (a la Sonny Rollins’s “Strode Rode” and namesake Woody Strode in Once Upon a Time in the West) the earth as saxophone colossi. He’s distilled the unreserved, pathfinding stratagems of Rollins, the mystic envelope-pushing of John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders, the sputtering guttural rasp of Archie Shepp and the sensual one of early Gato Barbieri, into a pulsing wall of circular-breathing incantation. Ware’s enormous, keening tone and jaggedly breathtaking blocks of song and fury suggest an aural equivalent to Monument Valley rock formations—or a black John Wayne galloping through them with the obsessive, impassive swagger of a dinosaur on the trail of some equally primordial Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Ware’s dense, quavering lines and honking phrases loom over abstract harmonic landscapes like a force of mythological nature: an overblowing Minotaur or maybe a MIRV griffon (half warhead, half lion) performing a tumultuous reconciliation of intelligent design and chaos theory, roaring thoughtfully against the twilight. Which is a hyperbolic way of describing his romance with sound in its purest, most naked form. But the secret of his art (or at least a good chunk of it) has to do with the way he unrepentantly sculpts and finesses the hyperbolic qualities of free jazz itself, the over-the-top, out-of-their-heads, squall-and-scrawl qualities that can otherwise result in one interminable, unmodulated freak-out after another.

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Howard Hampton’s psychocalifragilistic Born in Flames: Termite Dreams, Dialectical Fairy Tales, and Pop Apocalypses will be published in the fall by Harvard University Press.

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