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Nate Wooley: Argonautica

Troy Collins By

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Argonautica reveals a subtle new facet in Nate Wooley's eclectic discography. A celebrated leader of the new trumpet scene, Wooley has expanded the instrument's language by incorporating innovative extended techniques into his bold improvisations. Most of his work has fallen under the banner of lower-case improv, noise or advanced post-bop, but little of his prior output has found commonality within the realm of fusion—until now.

Comprised of a single 43-minute composition, "Argonautica" is realized by a somewhat unconventional ensemble. Billed as a double trio, the unorthodox lineup features Wooley and cornetist Ron Miles joined by new music pianist Cory Smythe and keyboardist Jozef Dumoulin (on Fender Rhodes and electronics), with Devin Gray and Rudy Royston playing drums. The group's symmetry subtly recalls the mirrored quartets featured on Free Jazz (Atlantic), Ornette Coleman's landmark 1961 recording, although the appearance of ambient electronic textures and rock-based rhythms draws a closer parallel to Bitches Brew (Columbia), Miles Davis' seminal 1970 masterpiece.

Dedicated to Ron Miles, Wooley's mentor, the titular composition eschews the Americana influence of Miles' recent efforts, although it does bear some similarities to his genre-defying early work for the now defunct Grammavision label. An analog to the epic poem of the same name, the music ebbs and flows through three oblique movements: an abstract opening section underscored by rambunctious, deconstructed funk grooves; an impressionistic middle dominated by balladic interplay and pointillist experimentation; and a hypnotic finale of psychedelic proportions, buttressed by anthemic unisons and a driving minimalist pulse.

Providing dynamic balance, the unit regularly pares off into isolated duos and trios. Miles' lyrical variations contrast and complement the leader's coruscating cadences, creating a multihued mosaic of polytonal brass harmonies. Smythe's percussive pianism and Dumoulin's shimmering refrains yield a similarly kaleidoscopic panorama, paralleled by the visceral combination of Gray's rubato attack and Royston's in-the-pocket precision.

Wooley's recently documented efforts range from radical reinterpretations of Wynton Marsalis' early post-bop on (Dance to) the Early Music (Clean Feed, 2015), to the ecstatic group improvisations of Seven Storey Mountain V (Pleasure of the Text, 2016). Ambitious and expansive, Argonautica finds Wooley exploring new stylistic territory that merges historical antecedents, through composition, and freewheeling improvisation in equal measure.

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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