Transit – Quadrologues (CF 143)
Nate Wooley – The Seven Storey Mountain (Important Records)
The work of trumpeter Nate Wooley falls into a number of camps: free improvisation, experimental noise or restructuralist postbop. It would be easy to lump him in with a young trumpeters/ extended techniques setting but Wooley is decidedly an individual. And while brass players tend to elicit an expected bravura, Wooley is very much at home in collective exploratory endeavors as one color in a very broad palette.
Transit is one of the first outfits that Wooley began working in when he arrived in New York from Denver and Quadrologues is the quartet’s second disc. Here, Wooley is joined by drummer Jeff Arnal, bassist Reuben Radding and altoist Seth Misterka on ten collective improvisations. While the group structurally hints at a piano-less quartet and attachments to post-Ornette non-chordal bop, such a model couldn’t be further from what Transit actualizes. A piece like “Time isn’t what you think” explores the cycles of breath, anguished whispers and near shrieks peeling away spatial layers as Misterka’s mournful, wide vibrato keen rises out of hums and sighs. Plodding pizzicato and rattling percussion mark intervals and like many of the improvisations here, there’s an airy pause that signals the end of the experience, giving one the feeling that a window on activity has shut while the foursome continue onward. That’s not to say that there aren’t moments of infectious, swinging rhythm—Arnal has a penchant for funky, flitting cross-rhythms that echo John Stevens’ Ed Blackwell-ian moments. “Speaking in Tongues” features a soulful, throaty Radding solo interwoven into a light polyrhythm and piercing golden unison.
Seven Storey Mountain is an exploration of (and creation of) environment, which finds Wooley joined by semi-regular partner Paul Lytton on percussion and David Grubbs on harmonium, as well as the inclusion of field recordings made in Jersey City. The landscape as it is initially defined here is restive, ultra-low tones bubbling only slightly to the surface. The nature of their production is unclear, perhaps electronic or a low-tone gong. Metallic breaths and gravelly burble seem assigned to a trumpet or a contact mic, while crinkling footsteps and swaths of air might signal taped Jersey environs. Though extremely subtle, the play of low tones and breaths and the introduction of rattling percussion and Grubbs’ droning harmonium enter and recede cyclically: Ten minutes in, electronic and breath palettes become dense as a clear, rolling patter of snare, cymbals and sticks generate an active blueprint toward present, immediate speed. Wooley notes, “My internal rhythm is really, really fast actually. Lytton and I have talked about this a little, because we have very similar at rest tempos, meaning the velocity that we tend to be most relaxed in.” In other words, the pensive and subtle cycles at the piece’s outset become almost closed-in, allowing environmental self-awareness to move from slow realizations to those of hyper-speed, fierce futurities.