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Nate Wooley/Chris Corsano/C. Spencer Yeh - The Seven Storey Mountain

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Artist: Nate Wooley/Chris Corsano/C. Spencer Yeh

Album: The Seven Storey Mountain

Label: Important

Review date: Nov. 21, 2011

In the past month, trumpet visionary Nate Wooley has played live gigs with Anthony Braxton, Harris Eisenstadt’s Canada Day, the Swiss electro-acoustic duo Diatribes, a trio with Berlin pianist Magda Mayas and drummer Tony Buck, John Hollenbeck’s Large Ensemble featuring Kenny Wheeler, and premiered a new work for solo trumpet based on the International Phonetic Alphabet. There were collaborations with choreographer Anna Sperber (along with Greg Kelley and Peter Evans), and participation in the presentation of Robert Ashley’s chamber music. In November, he flew to Belgium for a quick tour with drummer Teun Verbruggen and will finish off the month with Brooklyn gigs with Colin Stetson, Ryan Sawyer and C. Spencer Yeh and his Quintet Omega. With some musicians, one could write this off as the dalliances of a dilettante, but anyone who’s spent time listening to Wooley’s music knows that this is simply the way he works; he constantly pushes himself to find new contexts, new challenges, and new ways to think about the world of sound construction and collective collaboration.

If there’s any common thread through all of Wooley’s work, it is his continuous, committed investigation of process. There’s the obvious, like his use of extended technique, but as with young trumpet players like Evans and Kelley, intrinsic to his music is the scrutiny as to how those sounds are placed in the context of improvisational settings, from his probing duos with Paul Lytton or Joe Morris, to trios like Melee or Crackleknob, to his explorations of melodic materials within the jazz context of his quintet or Canada Day.

Which brings us to the Seven Storey Mountain project. For those not up on their Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain is the poet’s ruminations on his conversion to Roman Catholicism at age 23 and his immersion into life in an abbey in rural Kentucky. Wooley used this notion of an immersive path of questioning and contemplation as the conceptual foundation of what is planned to be a seven-part series of abstractions and additive processes.

For the first version of the piece (also released on Important a few years back), Wooley brought together Paul Lytton on percussion and David Grubbs on harmonium to work through a structure of graphic notation and improvisation played against the richly modulating shudders and drones of a tape piece. That one built from a slow simmer to a roar, flecked with the hyper-detail of Lytton’s rich, timbral percussion, wheezy harmonium overtones, and Wooley’s breathy colorations and amplified, buzzing gestures. For Round 2, the tape from the first piece was stripped down to its elemental form and then built up again as the framework for this meeting with drummer Chris Corsano and violinist C. Spencer Yeh.

Of course, Yeh and Corsano are enormously different players than Lytton and Grubbs and, right out of the gate, the tape drone hits harder and kicks with a rawer edge. Yeh’s violin overtones and harmonics and Wooley’s feedback-amped trumpet cross and converge with a palpable intensity as the piece builds in steadily coursing waves. It takes a bit for Corsano’s loose, elastic spattered drums and clanging cymbals to join in, mixing into the layers of sound as a textural element rather than as a propulsive line. An overall density and potent energy accrues as the piece progresses.

But this is no noise-drenched onslaught. Instead, things build with a sense of unforced trajectory and a considered placement of sound within the engulfing form. Yeh’s violin provides a harmonic richness, but the prickly quality of his sound and agile trace of his lines gives the music a more active edge than the first version. By a third of the way through, Corsano’s caterwauling intensity stirs things up even more, churning the improvisation up with a roiling sense of flux. Wooley has refined his use of amplification with trumpet over the ensuing time (check out his Trumpet/Amplifier LP on the Smeraldina-Rima label for a particularly commanding view) and his playing here is stoked by his partners. By the midway mark of this 43-minute piece, the music builds to coruscating torrents with screaming trumpet squalls, slashing string wails and resonating percussive thunder whipping into progressively denser whorls.

The challenge for players when building a crescendo like this is to find some way out without just fading out. But Wooley has built in a strong enough sense of form and structure between the underlying tape and graphic scoring that he is able to lead the trio to a more dramatic resolve by letting the threads of activity open up and then roar back with blustering waves of shuddering power. The piece finishes with a palpable drone, which rumbles as the din recedes, slowly shot through with the panning blurts of hiss and beacons of raw, electronic tones, bringing things back around to the tones and timbres that started the piece off. Since this release, Wooley convened a third iteration with Lytton, Corsano, Grubbs, and Yeh, along with vibraphonists Matt Moran and Chris Dingman, which is sure to reveal yet more progressive layers to Wooley’s vision.

By Michael Rosenstein

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