Music fans who are familiar with Nate Wooley's latest releases will be surprised to hear the other side of the trumpeter's musical vision, one that is less focused on sound and technique, but more on composition and arrangements, and with equal success I must say.
The band is actually an extension of Wooley's quintet that released "(Put Your) Hands Together", with tuba-player Dan Peck as the new member, next to Wooley on trumpet, Josh Sinton on bass clarinet and baritone saxophone, Matt Moran on vibes, Eivind Opsvik on bass, and Harris Eisenstadt on drums.
The music is as inventive and varied as on the first album, yet taking even a step further, making it more memorable in that sense, maybe more complex, more compelling, with solos that just go a notch deeper and stronger, in such a way that you want to listen again and again, because even if all sounds are quite easy to get into, and are welcoming and warm from the first listen, the compositions and arrangements develop in unpredictable ways, with lots of tempo and rhythm changes within each track, making it an almost mandatory gesture to push on the start button again, just to make sure you understood what was happening, and especially how it all fits together and how it works out so nicely.
The album opens with the magnificent theme of "Old Man On The Farm", so beautiful and moving, that you wonder whether this is truly Wooley you're listening to, but then the theme collapses in absolute free improvisation with great duets between trumpet and bass clarinet, spiralling upwards, in absolute frenzy, then move back into the unison theme with Swiss clock precision.
The album also gives us a grand tour of jazz history, with boppish moments as on the second track, "Make Your Friend Feel Loved", on which Dan Peck plays a lead role, with deep intro growls from his tuba gradually picking up rhythm, Eisenstadt and Moran joining soon, then Wooley Sinton Opsvik bring the theme, things change into hesitant stalling chords, going nowhere at all like a track stand in cycling, full of built-up tension, only to be released by a boppish "walking tuba" underpinning for a great solo by Wooley, full of joy and anger at the same time, things come to a halt again, the theme resurfaces and Sinton shouts through his baritone for his solo part.
"The Berries" offers Moran the stage for a long solo moment in between a jubliant unison theme that is fun although somewhat too mellow for my taste.
Things get better again with "Plow", with odd thematic counterpoints as beacons in an otherwise open-ended structure, with solos for Opsvik in the first part, and some weird trialogue between trumpet, vibes and bass clarinet in the second.
"Executive Suites" is a strange animal, with changing themes, rhythms and moods even, varying between funny and solemn, with complex arrangements and sudden surprises.
"My Story My Story" is a melancholy piece that starts rhythm-less with muted trumpet tones over slow vibes which sound like church bells in the distance, and with bass and tuba adding darkness in the lower tones, over slowly changing ascending chord changes, then halfway an explicit slow blues emerges with Wooley unmuting his horn, playing some astonishing fully voiced multiphonics, then sounding like Lester Bowie in "The Great Pretender", heartrending and deeply emotional.
"Sweet And Sad Consistency", has a contemplative beginning which evolves into a stomping uptempo 7/8 juggernaut with Sinton blowing some hair-raising howls out of his baritone sax, in stark contrast to Wooley's warm introduction, while bass and drums are more of the headbanging kind, but when the band is at full throttle, the thing stops for some side conversation of the low volume kind, all this in sharp contradiction with the track's title.
The album ends with "A Million Billion BTUs", a composition built around several themes, one more sweeping, the other interestingly accelerating, with changes of tempo throughout and great solo space for Wooley, Sinton and Moran.
So, now listen to this album, and again and again. To describe it in a few words is hard, as you can understand from the above, but here is a try : a warm and heartfelt album, full of inventive compositions, building on various elements of jazz tradition, yet moving it a step further into the future, performed with superb musicianship and equally warm and tight interplay.
Play it again!
You can find a copy at instantjazz.com.