Free Jazz reviews by Stef

Nate Wooley
The number of creative and free improv musicians who really have good promotion of their music is limited. Take Nate Wooley for instance, without a doubt one of the best trumpeters around, about whom information on his discography or performances is extremely hard to find. You can check Allmusic  and you will find no information, just three albums, labeled as “prog rock”, or  Artistdirect  mentions just one album with no information.Wooley had a website that advertises three albums, without any new information for the last six years! He now has a blog with very fragmented and infrequent information, to say the least.

Maybe that’s a good sign. It shows he’s busy working on his music rather than promoting himself, rightly thinking that his music is his best ambassador. But for fans like myself it makes it difficult to find what is available, because once you like his music, you want to hear more of it. Wooley has not only incredible trumpet technique and background (he was a student of Ron Miles), he is also very creative and audacious, while being a great team player too. With those qualities, it is no surprise that he is widely asked to perform and record. His recent output is nothing but prolific. Hence the three succinct reviews below, plus what I think is his most relevant discography, ranging from his most straight-forward first album to his very adventurous music with Mêlée.

Daniel Levin Quartet – Organic Modernism (CF 212)
In my previous review of the band’s “Live At Roulette”, I wrote ” The music flows organically, growing as it moves along, with instruments coming and going, like birds or bees passing by, coming and going, yet all taking part in the same unpredictable yet not unfamiliar scenery. Despite the apparent freedom, it all sounds very focused and coherent and it was possibly discussed before playing, or maybe not, and these four stellar musicians are just so good and so used to playing together, that this symbiosis of fragile and raw sounds might have been created spontaneously”.

I am not quite sure how to say it differently for this album : the music is moving without being sentimental. It has nothing of traditional music, yet it is drenched in familiar sounds that are organised differently, not around structure but around each other, growing organically, with subtle pulse. It can be sweet and bluesy (“My Kind Of Poetry”, “Old School”), it can also be adventurous and full of expressive outbursts (“Zero Gravity”, “Expert Set”) … and excellent throughout. The band is Daniel Levin on cello, Nate Wooley on trumpet, Matt Moran on vibes and Peter Bitenc on bass.

Nate Wooley Quintet- (Put Your) Hands Together (CF 218 )
For the first time in many years, Nate Wooley releases an album with composed music, with an actual band, and with music that is more accessible than any of the records made under his leadership. The band is Josh Stinton on bass clarinet, Matt Moran on vibes, Eivind Opsvik on bass and Harris Eisenstadt on drums …. indeed the musicians who play regularly together in each other’s bands and with equal success.

In stark contrast of some of his previous albums, Wooley’s trumpet tone is voiced, deeply sensitive but within the same phrase he can switch it into screeching whispers. The compositions integrate jazz history, but then in a reverend and playful way, gently giving new dynamics and dimensions to the familiar forms, lifting them up, dusting them off, refreshing them with new power and creative angles.

The end result is a carefully crafted, fun album, with moments of playfulness (“Elsa”), deep sentiments (“Hazel”), compositional complexity (“Ethyl”) or all in one (“Hands Together”). The most beautiful piece is “Shanda Lea” (Wooley’s wife?), opening the album with solo trumpet, repeated halfway the record in duet with Stinton, then again as solo trumpet to end the album. On tracks like “Erna” you can hear the warm voice of Ron Miles seep through, but unlike Miles, Wooley adds some odd raw edges and in doing so also more depth in the delivery.

In short, a heart-warming and inventive album, show-casing a fantastic musician and an artist in full development. No need to praise the rest of the band: you know them already: they’re among the best you can get these days, and to Wooley’s credit, he leaves them lots of space.


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