Since 2007 trumpeter Nate Wooley has been producing compositions in a song cycle collectively called "Seven Storey Mountain." The first one was performed by a trio and each succeeding version has included a greater number of musicians. The newest one, the sixth of an eventual seven iterations, is performed here by fourteen players including three vocalists. It is a compelling and heart-wrenching musical epic. one uninterrupted 45-minute piece which combines pre-recorded tapes and live performance.
Part of the work's emotional charge comes from the fact that this is the first version to include a composition by someone other than Wooley"Reclaim The Night" by Peggy Seeger, an anthemic song which protests against sexual assault and general mistreatment of women. Wooley's opus starts with the vocalists quietly humming the melody of Seeger's song, the sound alternately rising and subsiding as it moves forward at a deliberate pace. As the music unfolds, a piano joins the humming at the same slow tread. Then other instruments such as guitars, organ, and pedal steel guitar come in and the sound swells into a massive noisy cloud. The measured pace is still barely discernable as the massed music rolls on in waves.
The sounds shift emphasis like a kaleidoscope, with individual instruments, such as Nate Wooley's trumpet and Susan Alcorn's steel guitar, briefly rising to the foreground before receding into the vortex. Tape loop fragments of previous "Seven Storey" versions, speeded-up Terry Riley-style organ drones, bits of recited poetry and a roaring electric guitar solo by Julian Desprez are all folded into the maelstrom. All the while the piano continues its somber background chords as the music gradually works itself into a gale force scream.
Then 41 minutes in, the noise recedes and the vocalists begin to slowly sing the first eight lines of Seeger's song, which are printed on the cover of the CD package. Their mournful, haunting repetition of the lyrics snaps the entire piece into focus. All of the music's dizzying, intense energy suddenly has a purpose by climaxing in this song. The voices continue to repeat, eventually becoming multi-tracked and slipping out of sync like a fugue. The music behind them quietens down and the last sounds heard are the chorus singing over and over at increasing volume, "You can't scare me."
The grand scope and intensity of this work would be impressive if it were just instrumental, but the use of Seeger's song gives it added power and humanity, making it a very timely protest vehicle . This is an incredible achievement and it is hard to imagine how Nate Wooley will top it in his final version.
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