David S. Ware is not as well-known a tenor sax prophet as he ought to be. Like virtual contemporaries such as Charles Gayle and Arthur Doyle, Ware is often an afterthought to commentaries on Coltrane and Albert Ayler; he’s cited as an example of what has continued, if not improved upon, the work of the masters. But then again, Ayler is just as often dismissed, so it is all relative. Shakti is Ware’s first studio recording since 2003, and his free jazz is saturated, like the best, in spiritual aspiration, improvisational fearlessness, and uncompromising personal vision.
Ware is joined on this effort by a lineup of musicians who are as devoted to exploring their instruments as Ware is: guitarist Joe Morris, bassist William Parker, and drummer Warren Smith.A mournful guitar line ambles underneath Ware in “Nataraj,” a tune that also features amazing bass from Parker. Equally meditative are “Reflection” and “Namah,” the later soulfully mournful, its first few minutes taken up by tentative percussion. “Antidromic” features some nice guitar work from Morris, again using a trad mode from which to expand the songs ideas from within. The title track ends the set with resolved ideas from all the songs, with each musician given a chance to quote from prior melodies, add new ones, and keep Ware free for his measured but fiery work.
Ware is a legend who is ever testing the limits of where his music can work with him in his spiritual quest. Shakti is a lyrical, sweet set that, while featuring some ecstatic playing, does not overwhelm. Ware knows his power; here he massages it through several short but effective meditations.