Nate Wooley: Columbia Icefield

Don Phipps By

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Nate Wooley's Columbia Icefield begins with a dueling repetition of chords by bandmates Mary Halvorson and Susan Alcorn on "Lionel Trilling." The ambiguity generated by this back and forth is the perfect start to his album's shape-shifting music.

Wooley's trumpet is both poetic and piercing. There's a sense of longing in his tone and it is amplified by his use of odd electronics which add texture and distortions to his lines or simply populate the background. Halvorson's twangs and twitters, Alcorn's strums and plucks, and Ryan Sawyer's melodic but forceful drumming, deepen the experience.

An interesting aspect of Wooley's pieces is the way different beats are emphasized from bar to bar. This keeps things adventurous. It's as if Wooley's music never seems to rest. "Seven In The Woods" is a case in point. It begins with a quiet and eerie statement. Wooley's muted, long tones are echoed by Halvorson and Alcorn. The notes and the spaces between them rise and dissipate like steam on a city street. Accentuating the mood, Sawyer contributes floating work on the drums—emphasizing snare taps and the occasional all-over drum cascade.

"With Condolences" is the most abstract and adventurous piece on the album. Wooley uses breath techniques and electronics to roar in some of his exchanges. While Sawyer plays free form underneath Wooley's legato, he vocalizes words that are at times distorted.

Columbia Icefield is filled with introspection, solitude, and an uneasy peace. Like the great mountain ice field from which the album takes its name, the music embraces a vast, isolated, but beautiful landscape.

Track Listing

Lionel Trilling; Seven In The Woods; With Condolences.


Nate Wooley: trumpet; Mary Halvorson: guitar; Susan Alcorn: pedal steel; Ryan Sawyer: drums.

Album information

Title: Columbia Icefield | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Northern Spy



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