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Nate Wooley: Argonautica

Karl Ackermann By

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Trumpeter Nate Wooley is among the most exploratory and esoteric players/composers in creative improvisation along with fellow trumpeter/cornetists Rob Mazurek and Peter Evans. Wooley's catalog ranges from the wildly free The Nows (Clean Feed Records, 2011), a quartet that included Ken Vandermark and Paul Lyton, to the Bojan Vuleti composed chamber work, Atemwende (Ignoring Gravity Music, 2013) with the Mivos String Quartet). But Wooley's real eclecticism has shone in his works as a leader—particularly in recent years—with the minimalist solo experimentation of The Almond (Pogus Productions, 2011) and the nineteen-person ensemble on Seven Storey Mountain V (Pleasure Of Text Records, 2016). Somewhere in between, both stylistically and in terms of head-count, is Argonautica.

The solitary forty-three minute track that makes up the album is Wooley's tribute to trumpeter Ron Miles, an influential mentor to Wooley during his time as a student in Denver. Miles—a member of this group—has produced a markedly different body of work throughout his long career, in comparison to Wooley. The former has often applied his talents to a particularly Americana style of jazz as evidenced in his numerous projects with Bill Frisell but Miles is no less an innovator, just a different style of innovator.

The two trumpeters are part of a conjoint double trio with Wooley's group of pianist Cory Smythe and Devin Gray on drums and Miles trio with Jozef Dumoulin on Fender Rhodes and electronics and drummer Rudy Royston. Miles' contemplative style and Wooley's somewhat more forceful method mesh beautifully even through frequent alterations to the overall atmosphere.

The title track fades out and into three breaks beginning with Wooley's tentative-turned abstract solo. Piano, keyboards and drums join in as the piece takes a more lyrical—but edgy—turn and then begins to unleash its energy with more aggressive percussion and electronics. Smythe leads in the next section tranquilly but Wooley's high pitch sets the piano on edge as a torrent of notes intermingles with the trumpet and then both cool off to a near silence. Scratching, scraping electronics usher in the final part, punctuated by a more heavy-handed Smythe, eventually veering off to a bop oriented rhythm. Trumpet and cornet meet up as an almost eerie complement to each other, holding off a swirl of drums and electronics to the conclusion.

Argonautica is saturated in a variety of atmospheres, sometimes in a haze, other times with the intensity of a storm. Whether melodic or noisy, there is a coherent momentum that binds the freest improvisations to lyrical passages, eschewing prescribed limitations of composition and the conventional boundaries of instruments. Argonautica is yet another ambitious and beautifully realized work from Wooley, who just keeps moving the needle forward with every project.

Track Listing: Argonautica.

Personnel: Nate Wooley, trumpet; Ron Miles, cornet; Cory Smythe, piano; Jozef Dumoulin, Fender Rhodes and electronics; Rudy Royston, drums; Devin Gray, drums.

Title: Argonautica | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Firehouse 12 Records


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