Kamasi Washington was hardly the first saxophonist to revive the so-called spiritual-jazz aesthetic of John Coltrane and his key successors like Pharoah Sanders. As early as the late Seventies, the late David S. Ware was combining blissful melodicism with mighty fervor in a way that pointed directly back to those influences. From the early Nineties through 2007 Ware led a celebrated quartet that garnered him wide acclaim — Rolling’s Stone‘s David Fricke called him a “radiantly confident player” in a review of the group’s 1995 album Cryptology— and even a brief major-label deal.
This newly released live set from the 2010 installment of annual NYC free-iazz summit the Vision Festival documents a relatively short-lived but highly potent trio with bassist William Parker (a holdover from the quartet) and drummer Warren Smith (an alum of Van Morrison’s famed Astral Weeks session), formed after the quartet dissolved. While the earlier band performed Ware’s dramatic themes and the occasional standard, this lineup favored pure improvisation. That approach makes The Balance a severe listen, but also an excellent showcase for the saxist’s art at its most elemental. On this continuous three-part performance, he moves between deep sustained tones, extended through circular breathing, and squalling runs that retain a devotional focus even when they reach peak turbulence. Smith’s rumbling toms and dancing cymbal-bell work, and Parker’s rich, resonant undercurrent buoy the leader with a fierce yet articulate flow.
A series of studio-outtake bonus tracks, which the trio recorded about six months earlier, expand the instrumental palette — Ware performs on soprano-sax variant the saxello in addition to tenor and Smith adds in tympani and auxiliary percussion — but achieve a similar brand of meditative communion.