“In the city there is only one piece of glass between you and what you need… Some people have to climb mountains to justify their existence.”
– The character Michael in the film Five
For years, Steve Joerg has been a devotee of this music we call free jazz, and has championed such giants as William Parker, Cooper-Moore, Matthew Shipp, and above all David S. Ware, along with younger ones like Darius Jones and Craig Taborn. The majority of CDs and LPs released by Ware, both while he was with us and after his passing, have appeared on Joerg’s AUM Fidelity imprint. Joerg is a true inspiration for his stalwart dedication. Before discussing his most recent Ware releases, I will share a brief exchange we had.
Steve Dalachinsky (Rail): How’d you get into the music?
Steve Joerg: I first began listening to jazz in high school, listening to John’s [Coltrane] Blue Train. I first heard the new jazz happening in New York in the early-mid ’90s at the Knitting Factory.
Rail: When did you start AUM Fidelity?
Joerg: 1997. I spent the first eight months getting prepared for the launch of AUM Fidelity, and in September the first two releases came out.
Rail: How did you encounter David, William, and the Vision Festival folks?
Joerg: I first heard David on the Flight of i CD. I first saw the DSWQ live at the Knitting Factory in September 1994, meeting with David for the first time in person right after the gig. This was also my first exposure to William Parker; beyond the profound music he played, his bearing struck me rather deeply as well. I was at Homestead Records at the time, which is where I first began working with David and William. The Vision Festival launched in May 1996; AUM Fidelity essentially began at the end of that year as well. David’s work was a foundational inspiration to AUM Fidelity and its mission.
Rail: Any other pertinent points you want to add?
Joerg: “Life is the only thing worth living.”
In what Joerg describes as the “DSW-ARC” (David S. Ware Archive) series, three new Ware releases have been produced. The first is an expanded reissue of Ware’s first LP on Hathut, Birth of a Being, retitled David S. Ware / Apogee, Birth of a Being (Expanded) AUM096/97 (DSW-ARC01), with an album’s worth of remastered, never-before-released material from that essential 1977 recording, which also features Marc Edwards on drums and Cooper-Moore (then known as Gene Ashton) on piano and ashimba. It is comprised of all Ware compositions, except for one traditional tune arranged by Cooper-Moore. Like Ware’s later recordings, it is raw, powerful, distinct, and always, in the oddest of fashions, melodic. The band was known as Apogee and had been together since their Boston days in 1970, relocating to N.Y.C. in the early ’70s to create their own space at 501 Canal Street, where the non-stop playing continued as the Loft Jazz scene flourished. In 1973 they were invited by Sonny Rollins (a mentor and friend to Ware) to open for him at the Village Vanguard, and not long after Ware began performing with Andrew Cyrille’s group Maono, and also, together with Marc Edwards, joined the Cecil Taylor Unit.
As Joerg puts it, this recording spotlights “the foundation of collective synergy with Ware’s vision at the time of recording. Exceptional clarity, control, and utter logic in elocution; with intent to get to the breathing heart of music itself,” a vision that would carry over into all of Ware’s later recordings, as can be felt on the other two offerings in this trilogy.
Joerg adds, “David’s work, together with Cooper-Moore, would reach a new level of majesty over thirty years later, when they reconvened within the astonishing Planetary Unknown quartet. It was that group (also featuring William Parker and Muhammad Ali) with whom Ware recorded both his last studio session, and performed his final concert.”
As for the name Apogee, Cooper-Moore states:
I went to Webster’s Dictionary to find a name for the new band. I got no further than the A’s: Apogee. We practiced, rehearsed, practiced, rehearsed, obsessed about our place in the history of the music. No one wrote for this band. We just started playing and stopped when we stopped. We never talked about what we were playing. Apogee was like a marriage. I have never had relationships with other musicians like [I had] with David and Marc. I loved these people. What we did was very powerful for us. Maybe others didn’t understand us, but for the trio it filled a great need and a bridge to another place.
The second in the series is the David S. Ware and Matthew Shipp Duo Live in Sant’Anna Arresi (Sardinia), 2004 AUM100 (DSW-ARC02), “a continuous long form composition spanning a wide range of approaches and dynamics…challenging and expanding their mutual language throughout,” in Joerg’s description.
As Shipp states in his excellent liner notes to the release,
A duo between sax and piano represents a unique challenge for the practitioners. In this case, at the time of the concert performance presented here, I had been the pianist in David S. Ware’s quartet for fifteen years… we were aware that flexing our musical muscles in a free duo setting like this would feedback into the quartet. The point here is that we were always working out and continuing to develop our language.
And develop they did. This is an astounding exercise in free will, self control, and free music.
The third CD is officially scheduled for release in June, though Joerg states that “copies will be fresh off the pressing plant and available at Vision Fest 22.” The lineup is Ware in trio with William Parker and Warren Smith, live in N.Y.C., September 2010. It will be a two-CD set.
If you are at the 22nd annual Vision Festival this year, which runs from May 28 – June 6 at Judson Memorial Church, be sure to catch Steve at the merch table, where he’ll be every day, as he has been for years, selling his AUM Fidelity catalogue along with other products. This year’s lifetime achievement award will go to Cooper-Moore and the intense line-up consists of older and younger voices, promising to be one of the best Vision Festivals ever.
Speaking of Ware, I recently saw another wonderful set by one of my favorite working groups comprised of three of my favorite musicians: Trio 3 with Oliver Lake, Reggie Workman, and Cyrille. The group played a tune Cyrille had written for Ware titled “High Priest.” It was an uplifting, swinging, spirited tune that began with a poem Cyrille wrote for Ware.
Trio 3 often asks guests to sit in, and most are pianists such as Geri Allen, Vijay Iyer, or Jason Moran. This night was no exception, with pianist Mark Cary. The band, as Workman pointed out when introducing the members, has been around for as long as the MJQ. That’s over twenty-five years as a working unit, rare these days. All the members contribute compositions, many of which are inside/outside structures, and difficult to play.
Cyrille wrote another tribute piece, this time for Workman, titled “Epic Man,” and all I can say is that within its twenty or so minutes, it went through many complicated changes and solos, with Cyrille taking a back seat to the other musicians. It was one of the most diverse, abstract, and interesting pieces I have heard in a long time. Sometimes a groove makes it impossible for some musicians to play freely. Others often get caught up in awkwardness and sloppiness, but with this group, the music just flows from one extreme to the other, and back again.
Each member has his own unique history as both leader and sideman, and has played with the best of them: Workman with Trane and so many more; Cyrille with Taylor; Lake with WSQ and so many greats since his days in St. Louis as one of the founders of the Black Artists Group. Lake is also the founder of Passin’ Thru Records, and conducts festivals under its umbrella. One recently took place this past fall at Roulette and included Trio 3, his big band, and various artists, such as Frank Lacy, who record under the imprint. Lake is also an accomplished poet and visual artist, and to my mind is the number-one torchbearer of Dolphy’s ideas and sound, while at the same time being a totally unique and whole musician. As are the other members of this generous trio; they do everything that a group can do except play tedious, clichéd, inside music.
I dedicate this piece to my friend Gérard Terronès, champion of the music and founder of Marge/Futura Records, who passed away last month. If you don’t know his work, check it out.