Trumpeter Nate Wooley's Seven Storey Mountain is one of the most interesting long-term projects in new improvised music these days. The first edition was released in 2009, then as a trio with Paul Lytton (percussion) and David Grubbs (harmonium), followed two years later by another trio album, on which Wooley teamed up with C. Spencer Yeh (violin) and Chris Corsano (drums) - until today the core of the ensemble. Seven Storey Mountain III & IV was then released as a double CD marking the transition to larger groups. Finally Wooley composed Seven Storey Mountain V for a huge all-star orchestra (19 musicians, including Colin Stetson, Josh Sinton and Dan Peck, among others). With a changed line-up, the supergroup gave one of the most memorable performances I've ever seen at the 2017 À'larmé Festival .
So the bar was set high for Seven Storey Mountain VI - and Nate Wooley's band doesn’t disappoint. The trumpeter is explicitly political this time, the composition being about women's rights. The choice of musicians alone makes this clear, eight of the 14 musicians are women this time. Seven Storey Mountain VI is again one long composition (45 minutes) based on Peggy Seeger’s “Reclaim the Night“ (from her album Different Therefore Equal). The piece begins with a chorus of three voices humming the melody of Seeger’s song, then they fall out of the piece almost casually, and the heavy chords are roughened by brushes swirled on snare drums that create an atmosphere in which hummingbirds seem to float through the musical space. As in Seven Storey Mountain V, a bicycle bell rings in the piece. In general, the structure of the new composition is similar to the previous one; here Wooley presents a certain continuity. This time, too, musical layers are piled up until everything almost collapses. Once again the focus is on Wooley's distorted trumpet, which seems to be surrounded by guitar feedback. Wooley represents the gravitational center, lifeline and lubricant that holds everything together. Small, minimalistically repeated melodies of the keyboards and guitars are grouped around his excessive solos. At the climax of the middle section of the composition, everything is stretched to breaking point and readings from John Berryman’s 77 Dream Songs mumble below droning violins. And again this piece is also characterized by a great melancholy, which is reminiscent of Arvo Pärt and Henryk Gorecki's Symphony No. 3.
At the end the hummed motif of the beginning reappears. It shifts almost imperceptibly back into the composition, however this time it’s sung (the text is also the cover of the CD):
Though Eve was made from Adam’s rib
Nine months he lay within her crib
How can a man of woman born
Thereafter use her sex with scorn?
For though we bear the human race
To us is given second place
And some men place us lower still
By using us against our will …
But there’s a crucial difference to the original. Several times the singers defiantly repeat: You can't scare us! Self-empowerment is added to the disbelief of the original lyrics, melancholy is replaced by belligerence.
Like the previous installments of Seven Storey Mountain Wooley’s adventurous mix of free improv, minimalism, medieval chorals, and new classical music is based on the trust of the individual musicians.
In contrast to its predecessor Seven Storey Mountain VI was recorded in a studio. It’s even more beautiful than Part V, and the most convincing one in its coherence, exuberance and grandness.
For me one of the best albums of the year. Outstanding!
This time Seven Storey Mountain is:
Nate Wooley – trumpet, amplifier
C. Spencer Yeh - violin
Samara Lubelski - violin
Chris Corsano - drums
Ben Hall - drums
Ryan Sawyer - drums
Susan Alcorn - pedal steel guitar
Ava Mendoza - guitar
Julien Desprez - guitar
Isabelle O’Connell - keyboards
Emily Manzo - keyboards
Yoon Sun Choi - voice
Melissa Hughes - voice
Megan Schubert - voice
Seven Storey Mountain VI is available as a CD.
You can listen to it on the label’s website and Bandcamp
You can buy it from http://www.downtownmusicgallery.com/