With Mutual Aid Music, trumpeter Nate Wooley expands the ideas that underlay his Battle Piece series, (heard on three albums on Relative Pitch Records from 2015, 2017 and 2019) to produce a double CD which absorbs and enthralls. To the original cast of accomplished improvisers, comprising saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, vibraphonist Matt Moran and pianist Sylvie Courvoisier, Wooley adds four players, who hail from contemporary classical backgrounds. Of these, pianist Cory Smythe has had the greatest exposure to jazz audiences, not least through his work as part of drummer Tyshawn Sorey's groups, but cellist Mariel Roberts, violinist Joshua Modney and percussionist Russell Greenberg all prove similarly proficient at spanning genres.
As with the Battle Pieces, one musician's part is largely improvised while Wooley gives the others shorter sets of material, which vary from traditionally notated charts to textual instructions which they can adapt in different ways or ignore entirely. The outcome is eight concertos, each with one player first amongst equals. The twist with Mutual Aid music is that Wooley asks his collaborators to set aside their usual processes and decide what they can best do to further the unfolding collective. While the procedure may sound complex, it results in engaging pieces, each possessing a distinctive character, more cohesive than improvisations, but considerably looser than compositions.
Although it is not always readily apparent who might be the featured performer during the combined give-and-take, there is no such problem with the opener, which finds Wooley stretching through fast, sometimes melodic, contours interspersed with sudden leaps, filigree breathy squeals and blustery gales, initially accompanied by tolling piano and vibes, then later enveloped by ensemble crescendos and spiky rejoinders. By the end, the trumpet is once again escorted by tolling piano alone, echoing the beginning, and furnishing just one example of how cooperative decisions can contrive a satisfying hint of form.
Elsewhere it is the manner in which the squad interpret some of the written elements which catches the ear. Wooley's perky repeated motif on "Mutual Aid Music II," receives reinforcement from piano and vibes, contrasting pleasingly with Laubrock's line which floats, pirouettes, muses, erupts and exhales. Likewise the lilting air outlined in unison by violin and one of the pianos on "Mutual Aid Music II-I" throws Roberts' exclamatory cello in an altered light. It is apparent that Wooley's methods give the company enough leeway to craft and sustain restrained, even lyrical, communal soundscapes as well as bristling abstraction.
While Wooley's concept requires those involved to do what they think is needed for the overall good, the most obvious takeaway of such self effacement is that it often means listening rather than playing. So it is rare to hear everyone simultaneously, with only occasional flashes of density, as mood and feel trumps dazzle. That is not to suggest there are no startling individual moments; just for one, Greenberg's resonant gong crash at the very start of "Mutual Aid Music I-I" seems to say 'listen up' just before the entrance of Modney's virtuosic violin glissandi, scrapes and whistles.
It may not be clear to non-participants whether Wooley has achieved his goal of a new model of music-making, but his ambition has certainly created something very substantial in the attempt.
Mutual Aid Music I; Mutual Aid Music II; Mutual Aid Music III; Mutual Aid Music IV; Mutual Aid Music I-I; Mutual Aid Music II-I; Mutual Aid Music III-I; Mutual Aid Music IV-I;
Title: Mutual Aid Music
| Year Released: 2021
| Record Label: Pleasure Of The Text Records
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