NATE WOOLEY QUINTET – (Put Your) Hands Together (CF 218)
Trumpeter and improvising composer Nate Wooley is a tough person to keep a bead on, mainly because with each passing year, his discography gets ever lengthier and his work broadens in scope. Able to bridge the worlds of modern creative (jazz) and noise/experimental music with seeming little effort, the intrepid listener/collector has a lot to keep track of. Another challenge is the fact that he approaches each end of that spectrum with honesty, curiosity, and believability – in other words, he sounds utterly convincing as a noise musician as he does a jazz player, which is far from an easy feat. On (Put Your) Hands Together, Wooley leads a quintet that follows in the framework of modal post-bop that his work in drummer Harris Eisenstadt’s Canada Day evinces, but with a decidedly hard-edged spin. He’s joined by Eisenstadt and Canada Day bassist Eivind Opsvik, vibraphonist Matt Moran and Josh Sinton on bass clarinet for a program of ten originals, three of which are different versions of the piece “Shanda Lea,” named for Wooley’s wife. In fact, all of the compositions here are named for important women in the trumpeter’s life.
The first iteration of “Shanda Lea” opens the disc, heartfelt and lilting cadenzas with little turns and swallows that bridge harrowing flurries. There would be a tendency to hear this as a starting coda, or even a run-through of approaches to the trumpet, but it is in fact a self-contained and poetic solo composition that more than holds its own. The title track follows and is strikingly reminiscent of Andrew Hill’s “Ghetto Lights” in its laconic slink; Wooley’s solo takes on the hardbop lexicon and toys with it, building out from Woody Shaw-like arpeggios into bold, screaming peals and subtonal chatter. Sinton follows in trio with free-time squawk that gets into the low-down dirty side of Dolphy to an almost grotesque degree. It’s hard not to think of Bobby Hutcherson in Moran’s glassy swing, ricocheting off the push of Eisenstadt’s drums before Wooley and Sinton return with the head. “Erna” is a different sort of piece, bowed vibes and soft patter leading before the quintet moves cautiously into a march, unifying iterations of the stair-stepped theme. From a short Sinton-Wooley duo on “Shanda Lea,” moving from stateliness to daring pierce, the quintet returns for “Ethyl” and its hanging, cyclical minimalism. While the bar lines reflect roundly suspended areas and quiet control, the improvised sections allow Sinton stretching room over a tugging rhythm. The degree to which Wooley has orchestrated this ensemble allows one to hear beyond his voicings in duo with Opsvik, or in a cracking trio with Eisenstadt, and feel the entirety of the group without necessarily anticipating its direction. Sure, this is a strong “jazz quintet” record, but Hands Together is so well organized and diverse that it is definitely greater than the sum of its parts.