By Tim Niland
Much praise and withering criticism has been levied at Wynton Marsalis over the years. It’s courageous that noted avant-garde trumpeter Nate Wooley should make an album revisiting early Marsalis compositions through the fresh lens of post-modern outside/inside jazz. The remainder of the band consists of Josh Sinton on bass clarinet, Matt Moran on vibraphone, Eivind Opsvik, on bass and Harris Eisenstadt on drums. On “Hesitation” trumpet and clarinet hold long notes until drums and bass crash in. There is punchy trumpet with clarinet in the background, playing fast with the band swooping and weaving. The combination of trumpet and clarinet works very well, especially when goaded on by ripe bass and drums. Everyone frames each other well for brief solo sequences. “Delfeayo’s Dilemma” has a pinched trumpet sound emanating over rattling drums. Moving to a broader scope and tone, Wooley’s solo is deep and well thought out, existing both in the moment and in the mind. The rhythm section and vibes take the music into a more spacious realm, where percussion and collective improvisation abounds. A nice woody sounding clarinet sound joins the scene and presents a large dark tone to the music that pokes and prods in the corners and out of the war places. The full band returns to state the melody followed by short solos for bass and drums. A sense of imminent propulsion pervades “On Insane Asylum” with trumpet, excellent bass and drums driving forward. Wooley’s trumpet is very powerful here, reaching for vast ideas and allowing his spontaneity to twist and tug at the music, with a huge scorching blast of air. One of Marsalis’ most well known compositions, “J Mood” is taken with a softer opening but then begins to build its pace, led by some excellent drumming which evolves into a fine solo. Everyone returns after that exciting solo, and but the drummer keeps the fire lit even though the horns are a step behind. This is truly an extraordinary feature for Harris Eisenstadt. “Skain’s Domain” has Wooley moving though different extended techniques of his horn building inward from abstraction to melody when the rest of the band joins on soft footing. Wooley is quite impressive here, whether soloing of interacting with the other musicians in the band. It would be easy to look at this album as some form of satire: free jazz guys play the music of the moldy fig. But I don’t get that sense at all, I think that Wooley took this as a challenge: how can you make the music of the past, The Wynton Marsalis Quartet, which itself was an echo of the past, The Miles Davis Quintet (how meta!) and make it malleable enough that you can sculpt your own unique take on it? They meet the challenge head on and succeed admirably.