An Especially Epic, Dynamically Conversational New Suite From Nate Wooley
Trumpeter Nate Wooley has put out a toweringly ambitious amount of largescale, highly improvisational work lately, notably his increasingly dark Seven Storey Mountain series. His latest album, Mutual Aid Music – streaming at Bandcamp – continues in that vein, but with a lyricism and often minimalist focus that may take recent listeners by surprise. Wooley asserts himself more melodically here than he’s done in recent years on album. The AACM influence on this epic double-disc set is vast, more so than in practically anything Wooley has written, both in terms of shifting ambience and room for group improvisation. Much as there’s new transparency in this music, it’s for people with long attention spans: every track clocks in at around ten minutes, sometimes more.
As usual, he has a killer supporting cast here: saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, violinist Joshua Modney, cellist Mariel Roberts, pianists Sylvie Courvoisier and Cory Smythe, vibraphonist Matt Moran and percussionist Russell Greenberg,
Wooley’s bracingly haphazard microtones to open the first disc are a false alarm: his resonance, and sputters, and even the occasional squalling peak build a warm lyricism as the group linger and flit in and out of the background, vibraphone and piano piercing the veil. Rapt stillness descends at times, with Modney, Roberts and the piano throwing sparks above the haze, the bandleader exerting a final calm.
Spacious, Wadada Leo Smith-esque call-and-response grows more lively between Wooley and Laubrock as the second number gets underway. Moran is the eerie elephant in this room for awhile, the piano kicking off a galumphing, loopy drive that recedes and then returns with more of a wink and a Brian Jones-style circle of tinkling echoes. That’s got to be Courvoisier at the keys.
Moran and the piano introduce segment number three with a plaintive spaciousness, the horns dragging the rest of the group into a noir morass: this swamp is cold and forbidding and bodies are buried here. The twisted mobile fluttering in the breeze toward the end is the album’s most chilling interlude.
Massed flutters and coy faux backward masked riffs congeal uneasily as piano and sax resist in segment four, and there’s more wry humor in Courvoisier’s under-the-lid rustles and Modney’s sarcastic harmonics. Yet the activity on the high end, notably Moran and Modney, shifts to a a poltergeist atmosphere as the group wind it out.
The second disc opens with a big hit on the gong, Modney shredding, Roberts a whale at play, as a Terry Riley-ish study in hypnotically pulsing highs develops. From there, vast wave-motion surrealism contrasts with squirrelly flickers and thickets overhead.
Part two begins as a music box in a haunted attic, then gremlins – Roberts and the piano – take over, ceding to an echoey shimmer before a more agitated return. Part three shifts from solo neoromantic piano gloom to distant-nebula atmosphere splashed by Greenberg’s gongs, adrift between stars and their dust. The conclusion is about a quarter hour of increasingly dizzying polyrhythmic webs, Wooley a lone sentry as the mist moves in, Modney leaking astringency amid funhouse mirrors, and bustle receding to rapture as it winds out. Even all this is a only a capsule account of the strikingly dynamic, expertly conversational, raptly captivating interplay at work here.