Nate Wooley - Columbia Icefield

Label: Northern Spy Records, 2019

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

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American trumpeter-improviser Nate Wooley writes cleverly configured music for a new experimental ensemble featuring guitarist Mary Halvorson, pedal steel guitarist Susan Alcorn, and drummer Ryan Sawyer, who doubles on vocals. All three compositions on Columbia Icefield (the album was titled for the largest area of interconnected glaciers in the Rocky Mountains) run between 10 and 20 minutes. The quirky quartet builds structural blocks according to Wooley’s arrangements, in a demonstration of versatility and imagination. The bandleader pictures the inaccessible ice field as a metaphor of man’s relationship to nature, many times suggesting sonic mystery.

Lionel Trilling” starts off with concurrent guitar ostinatos filled with acerbic atonal intervals and subtle chromatic shifts, a relentless cadence sustained by a sort of obsessive thrust. As the tune progresses, surprising rhythms erupt, bringing Sawyer’s unpredictable drumming to the forefront. You must wait around for controlled moments of chaos as well as intervals of reflective stillness. Both invite us to picture vast hyperborean landscapes in our minds. Rasping, vibrating slides on the guitar and vocal effects help to magnify the milieu, which, near the final, shapes into a waltzing, electronic-like passage with rhythmic patterns atop.

Refraining the dynamics, the group embraces a certain languidness for most of the duration of “Seven in the Wood”. Alcorn and Halvorson combine their quirky sonorities, weaving a serene tapestry over which Wooley pronounces crisp lines with descriptive properties. Sawyer creates uncertainty in his interventions, and the reverent care for nature seems to emerge from a solemn folk source. This hushed instrumentation lingers until Halvorson turns on distortion and Sawyer takes his drums to thunderbolt heights for a torsional indie-rock flutter.

The title “With Condolences” doesn’t mislead, considering that the music resembles a requiem. However, on occasion, the dismalness is cut out by the tribulation that results from layered instrumental entanglements. Sawyer’s narration is done in conformity with the tenebrous understructure.

The music orchestrated by Wooley might not move a mountain, but has the power to shake it.

Grade  B

Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Seven in the Wood ► 03 - With Condolences


Corsano / Courvoisier / Wooley - Salt Task

Label/year: Relative Pitch Records, 2016

Lineup - Chris Corsano: percussion; Sylvie Courvoisier: piano; Nate Wooley: trumpet.

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Drummer Chris Corsano, pianist Sylvie Courvoisier, and trumpeter Nate Wooley are three inveterate improvisers who joined forces in Salt Task, another hallucinating trip into arduous avant-garde galaxies.

All the members of the trio have been very active lately, participating in a variety of recordings and performing live with regularity. The versatile Corsano, whose collaborations can range from Bjork to Evan Parker, is a member of the powerhouse quartet led by the Portuguese saxophonist Rodrigo Amado, which also features American saxophonist Joe McPhee and bassist Kent Kessler. Besides recording with the avant-rock trio Rangda, he keeps on teaming up with saxophonist Paul Flaherty, a longtime collaborator.

Wooley launched great records in duo with multi-reedist Ken Vandermark and released Argonautica (Firehouse 12 Records, 2016) with a hot sextet that includes cornetist Ron Miles, pianist Cory Smythe, keyboardist Jozef Dumoulin, and drummers Rudy Royston and Devin Gray.
Last year, Courvoisier put all her musical passion in Miller’s Tales (Relative Pitch, 2016), an avant-jazz delight cooked in partnership with her violinist husband Mark Feldman and featuring saxophonist Evan Parker and electronics wiz Ikue Mori. This year, she could be heard in Crop Circle (Relative Pitch), recorded in duo with the nonconformist guitar sensation Mary Halvorson.

Salt Task opens with the revolutionary title track, a 20-minute-piece that erupts with dense contrapuntal cogitations simultaneously driven by the trio. After the opening section, the musicians usually interact two by two, exploring different sonic possibilities and moods until reaching the final section, where the trio strikes again. Depending on the setting, one may float serenely over idyllic landscapes, march at the sound of a military trumpet, startle with ominous low-pitched piano vibes, revolve around cyclic ideas, or become energized through piano-drums sweeps and thunders.

Eminently percussive, “Last Stat” displays extra alternative textures with Corsano in the spotlight. He reproduces the sound of a plastic trashcan rolling down the street while Courvoisier strums the piano strings to make it sound like a stale harp. Wooley contributes with airy sounds and rapid attacks that often uncover playful melodies.

Tall Stalks” conveys admiration through Wooley’s muted phrases on top of Corsano’s combustible rhythm flows and Courvoisier’s unflagging textures. She creates tension by continually hitting the same key with her left hand.

The gently atmospheric “Stalled Talks” finishes the album with a circumspect narrative flow, probing techniques of meditation that feel intense on one side and tranquilizing on the other.

The inventive trio wisely plays with textural agitations and composures, arranging them with freedom, responsibility, and an evident musical insight that makes them first-rate avant-gardists. 

         Grade  A-

         Grade A-

Favorite Tracks: 
02 – Last Stat ►03 – Tall Stalks