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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Nate Wooley - [8] Syllables (Peira, 2012) ****

By Alfie Cooke

Nate Wooley is rapidly becoming the main man in solo trumpet.  Admittedly, there is a general shortage of brass players in improvised music so it's a small field, but his only real challenge is Peter Evans (check out his two albums on Evan Parker's PSI label).  Both men are capable of a phenomenal range of sounds from their horns but Wooley seems to be taking the lead in the long-form improvisation.

8 Syllables, like Wooley's other pieces in this vein 'Wong a shape To Be as Storyteller', is not easy listening.  While some will find the blast and thunder of Brotzmann a strain, Wooley's minimalist approach makes listening difficult for a very different reason - this is silence... Breath... The sound of a breeze bouncing off the sides of the bell.  8 Syllables is not something you can put on in the background and drift in and out of.  It is a challenge because it requires attention for the full length of the CD, every time you play it.

Beginning with a sharp stab that the piece then turns into a drone, a single note held for an impossibly long time (evidence that circular breathing is no longer the sole domain of the saxophonist).  The note bobbles and crackles, with every variation in Wooley's embouchure seemingly audible.  Then his breath seems to fail, the note stutters and stumbles before finally falling away to nothing.  And then you start thinking that you've hit track 2...

Once you get the hang of what Nate Wooley is doing, you start to become familiar with the way that near-silence - the breathless breath which he sends through the trumpet - is as much a part of his technique as the pure tone.  Apparently, there is a Miles Davis album where you can hear the shard of skin from his lip that has caught inside his trumpet.  The mistake is always deliberate.  Wooley uses every sound that can be coaxed as part of his palette, and you can imagine him thinking back to every fluff and blunder when he first picked up an instrument and tried to get a sound out of it - all of it becomes part of the possible.

Personally, I love what Nate Wooley does. It isn't easy listening and the range of sound volume means you have to listen real hard, but this truly is the sound of surprise.

© stef


Michael Campbell said...

You ever heard Peter Evans' "More is More" or "Nature/Culture"? I've only heard some of the latter, but it also has some stunning solo trumpet playing.