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Sunday, April 7, 2019

Ken Vandermark and Nate Wooley - Deeply Discounted/Sequences of Snow (Audiographic/Pleasures of the Text, 2018) ****½

By Paul Acquaro

As I began writing this, I took a quick look back at my post from 2015 about the Ken Vandermark (woodwinds) and Nate Wooley (trumpet) duo's first recording, East by Northwest. At the time of writing, I was still thinking about the show I had just seen of theirs. Before that experience, I had been a little skeptical about what two wind instruments could manage, but the show opened my ears. Subsequently, I was turned on the work of John Carter and Bobby Bradford - an inspiration for this pairing - and have eagerly enjoyed each new installment of the the Wooley/Vandermark journey, including their follow up All Direction's Home, and now Deeply Discounted/Sequences of Snow.

This latest recording consists of two long form compositions that were conceived of for the medium - the LP - on which I'm spinning it. It is also available as a download for those who have left the physical world behind (doesn't that sound morbid?). The pieces, true to form for the artist, carry their inspirations in their titles. "Deeply Discounted II", a piece by Wooley, was inspired by John Cage's "Cheap Imitation" (which was itself inspired by Erik Satie), and Ken Vandermark's "Sequence of Snow" is dedicated to the artist Michael Snow and inspired by some of his films. I am not sure if it's necessary to even get into the inspirations for as such, except as a doorway down another rabbit hole of art and intrigue (which I encourage you to follow, of course), as the pieces stand firmly on their own.

"Deeply Discounted" begins with a slow melody delivered in counterpoint between the clarinet and the trumpet. A snippet of a melody, acting as an anchor in the piece appears again and again, it sounds rather like a brass fanfare, classical in nature, trilling and exuberant. The two duck and weave with it, building around it, and then knocking it down. Suite-like in concept, the piece follows ideas until reaching a pause, which then serves as the start of a new idea. There are moments when I think of the Zentral Quartett as the two touch on a style that feels a bit like how that classic quartet interpolated Germanic folk themes. From the regal to the squeaky, this is an ambitious piece that showcases the duo's deep listening and clever contrapuntal choices.

"Sequences of Snow" begins with a soundwave. The trumpet and clarinet deliver long passages comprised of pulses and inspired flights. For a moment, Wooley may be holding down a repetitive sequence, while Vandermark weaves a melodic statement around it, then suddenly the roles switch. Long moments of dissonant intervals sometimes precede a tonal event on the trumpet, or are punctuated by a sharp vocalization. Polyphonic trumpet tones and violent buzzing are pierced by high pitched legato notes from the clarinet (or do they do the piercing?), underscoring the fact that the duo's concept is comprised of strong understanding and adventurous ideas. At times, simple ear pleasing melodies emerge and change the energy and direction of the piece and about 2/3 of the way through the piece we're treated to one of those Vandermark riffs that you could hear delivered with power and a deep groove, but here is handled deftly in tandem by the duo.

This third offering from Wooley and Vandermark is easy to recommend, especially to the already initiated, but there is something- from the gentler melodies to the fierce runs- to engage all eager ears.


Colin Green said...

An illuminating review Paul, and nice use of links.

Paul said...

Thanks Colin. In these days of everything all at once, I enjoy a couple of hand-picked links!