Nate Wooley Makes America Great Again

Mark Corroto By

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In his excellent book of literary and cultural criticism, The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness, Kevin Young describes the term Jazz as both a noun and a verb. He further explains that jazz from the time of its origins through, let's say the 1980s, was a word used to describe action. Such as the actions and creations of Armstrong, Ellington, Davis, and Coltrane. But when it ceased its movement it became a noun, or a word to identify a thing, jazz.

Nonetheless, there are artists today committed to jazz the verb, like trumpeter Nate Wooley. His sound has expanded the concept of the trumpet with a unique approach to technique, sound generation, and improvisation. Of his notable projects, he performs solo, in duo with like likes of Ken Vandermark and Paul Lytton, in Adam Lane's Full Throttle Orchestra, and with his quintet that released (Dance To) The Early Music (Clean Feed, 2015), covers of Wynton Marsalis' music from the 1980s. That particular disc was an example of jazz as a verb, where an artist stands on a previous generation's shoulders to reach beyond their accomplishments and not merely mimic their style.

The following two epic releases are further proof that Wooley keeps moving the genre forward by signifying his music as a verb.

Nate Wooley
Firehouse 12 Records

This single 43-minute composition is taken from the Greek epic poem telling the voyage of Jason and Argonauts. Wooley wrote the music for his Denver mentor Ron Miles, who leads one of the two trios that make up the recording. The concept here is the intersection of Wolley's trio of pianist Cory Smythe and drummer Devin Gray with Miles' trio of Jozef Dumoulin (Fender Rhodes and electronics) and drummer Rudy Royston.

Performed in three distinct parts, the saga opens without adornment. A trumpet breathing what could be warm-up notes, stretching the fabric of the music's sweater making it into a comfortable garment, no, a beautiful outfit. Melody accessorizes before drums and Fender Rhodes enter, and eventually piano. Wooley's composition, part 1, builds in intensity (Jason's storm?) lashing electronics against the double drummers and electric piano. Dave Douglas' recording Sanctuary (Avant, 1997) comes to mind. As the piece progresses, a musical fog descends via piano and electronics. In the quiet, Smythe's piano cues an outburst of notes. His piano rumblings lead a battering of drums before the eventual calm and some calmer waters. Part 3 opens with grinding electrics, then rattling percussion and etherial electronics. Wooley's trumpet is muted and fills space with an ambient sound. The momentum builds first via electric piano, then acoustic piano and drums. Wooley and Miles join in for an almost eerie crescendo. The piece has that "what just happened" vibe, that makes you want to investigate what did just happen.

Nate Wooley
Seven Storey Mountain V
Pleasure Of Text Records

This Seven Storey Mountain is the fifth installment of Nate Wooley's meditation series. The title is taken from the Trappist monk, Thomas Merton's most famous publication. Like Merton, the most Zen Buddhist of Christians, Wooley might be the most Japanoise of all jazz improvisers.

His previous installments were released by Important Records (2009 & 2011) and his own Pleasure Of The Text Records (2013). As the chapters increase, so do the players. The first edition had Wooley joined by Paul Lytton and David Grubbs. The second Chris Corsano and C. Spencer Yeh, the third, a septet, and the fourth swelled to twelve performers. Here the count is nineteen with Yeh, Samara Lubelski, Ben Vida, Ben Hall, Ryan Sawyer, Matt Moran, Chris Dingman, Dan Peck, Josh Sinton, Colin Stetson, and the TILT brass octet.

With 19, you have power and, in Merton's terms, the majesty. Like the previous installments, the nearly fifty minute piece builds momentum through the amassing of sound. There's noise here, but a regal noise. Wooley presents the trumpets and trombones of the TILT Brass Octet like Elmer Bernstein's score for the film, The Ten Commandments. That is, if Alfred Hitchcock had directed it. The piece pulls together Yeh and Lubelski's amplified violins with the ringing of Moran and Dingman's vibraphones to effect an ethereal sound.

The journey Wooley takes us on can be disorienting, but that's the point. Noise mixed with amplified brass and mechanical sounds creates an instability. But that uncertainty and the riskiness of the journey into this darkness, might be just a test. A test of faith, or a secularist's mindfulness.

Tracks and Personnel


Tracks: Argonautica.

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

Seven Storey Mountain V

Tracks: Seven Storey Mountain.

Personnel: Nate Wooley: amplified trumpet, tape; C. Spencer Yeh: amplified violin; Samara Lubelski: amplified violin; Ryan Sawyer: drums; Ben Hall: drums; Colin Stetson: bass saxophone; Josh Sinton: amplified contrabass clarinet; Dan Peck: amplified tuba; Matt Moran: vibraphone; Chris Dingman: vibraphone; Chris McIntyre: conductor, trombone; Gareth Flowers: piccolo trumpet; Mike Gurfield: trumpet; Tim Leopold: trumpet; Will Lang: tenor trombone; Jen Baker: tenor trombone; Matt Melore: trombone; James Rogers: bass trombone.

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