By Gary Chapin
I was surprised to see that we had not reviewed these gems, but not surprised to see that I was the one who’d promised to review them. Mea maxima culpa. There’s tons of music I’ve not reviewed this year, but only these three have I been listening to with incessant fascination. I think I have been reluctant to wrap my thoughts around them. One of the joys of This Kind of Music is the way it can evoke things without having to articulate them. Sometimes, in a review, I find myself trying to articulate things, and thereby diminishing them. Perhaps I’m over thinking this.
Nate Wooley - Ancient Songs of Burlap Heroes (Pyroclastic Records 2022)
Wooley sets his theme in the accompanying text. His own words:
This album is dedicated to those who recognize living as a heroic act: the occupiers of sunup barstools; the cubicle-planted; the ghosts of Greyhounds; the reasonably sketchy. A burlap hero is one who marches—consciously or not—back to the sea in hopes of making no splash, who understands and embraces the imperfection of being, and in that way, stretches the definition of sainthood to fit.
Wooley and crew—himself, trumpet; Susan Alcorn pedal steel; Mary Halvorson, guitar; Ryan Sawyer, drums; Trevor Dunn, bass on track 4; Mat Maneri, viola track 2—present us with what I’m interpreting as three movements. These are punctuated (beginning, middle, and end) with transitions named as extended ellipses (……………), or they could be many many periods.
Wooley celebrates quotidian heroism as Homeric. Beginning and ending at the sea, with a “catastrophic legend” at the center. This is earnest music, without an ounce of irony, evoking the sea in all of its dark, menacing, comforting, brooding power. The structure of the legend is such that the voices build slowly, layering chronically, and finally break loose. Wooley’s trumpet is anthemically clear at points. Halvorson and Alcorn are uncannily good, woven throughout like indispensable threads.
Julie Tippetts and Martin Archer - Illusion (Discus 2022)
Every track on this long two CD set is immediately discernible as great and engaging, but the sprawling majesty of the two suites is something that reveals itself over ime. In those moments when I stop thinking about what I want to listen to, and start feelingbehaving what I want to listen to I have been reaching for Illusion.
There’s an abundant creativity to the lyricism, here. So many ideas come out so effortlessly. It’s like a Jack Kirby drawing, bursting with intrigue and spectacle. Everything Tippetts is great at is encompassed here, couched in British free jazz progressive music, art song, aleatoric music, electronica, and the sort of singer/songwriter eccentricity that led to Joni Mitchell or Robin Holcomb. Tippett’s, among other things, is an extraordinarily facile vocalist.
“Circle of Whispers” is a set of contrasting smaller pieces, illuminating each other in relief. “Illusion” is a genuine suite, seven parts of continuous music. The ensembles are recombinated into various small groups, and the overall structure is guided by chance procedures. The mixture of intent and emergence is striking.
Thumbscrew - Multicolored Midnight (Cuneiform 2022)
Mike Formanek is the kind of the freebop hard swinging, hip walking, “goin’ down the street and passing out wolf tickets” kind of bass line, and I don’t even know if it’s close. That’s the vibe this disc starts on, and it proceeds as it begins. If there’s a story here, it’s kind of dark and also funny.
Thumbscrew is Formanek, Mary Halvorson (guitar), and Tomas Fujiwara (drums, vibes). They ran into each other by accident seven albums ago and have been a genuinely cooperative trio ever since. They share composing duties, and cover a wide repertoire of “others” work. 2020’s Anthony Braxton Project pretty much destroyed me. The shifting relationships and pairings mean every player is rhythm and lead, in turns and simultaneously.
Multicolored Midnight features eleven originals, varying levels of composition and improvisation. Mary Halvorson’s guitar again shines. Between this and the Nate Wooley I just talked about—and every other thing she’s done this year—would make her my free jazz MVP, if we had such a thing. Fuliwara’s drums are fleet and unexpected, but his vibes really stick out, for me. I’m actually obsessed with his vibes.