Nate Wooley's Large Group Composition
Nate Wooley’s Composition for Large Improvising Ensemble.

This week NYC based trumpeter Nate Wooley played a series of shows in the Pacific NW, including two nights at Gallery1412.  I missed the all brass show on Thursday but managed to get to the Saturday show which featured a trumpet/percussion/”piano” trio and a large group performing one of Nate’s compositions.

I’d slept poorly the night before and upon finding my automobile reluctant to turn over I near abandoned the enterprise.  But I walked around a little bit and gave it another go and the car decided to play along.  It’d been a warm, sunny May day which is not necessarily the best circumstance for Gallery shows, especially if they are crowded.  I arrived a few minutes before showtime to find the muscians arriving and just setting up. I walked around Capitol Hill a bit contemplating coffee but deciding that it was perhaps not for the best I returned to the gallery to grab a seat. I read the titular chapter of Morton Feldman’s Give My Regards to Eighth Street before the show began.

Nate Wooley / Gust Burns / Jeffrey Allport trio
I’d seen all three of these musicians before, Nate at the 2007 SIMF and Gust and Jeffery numerous times in various combinations. I really have enjoyed these musicians work and I felt that this trio would be a really good combination.  Nate of course plays trumpet in various styles, but most interestingly in a rather post Axel Dörner/Greg Kelley sound oriented style.  Jeffery Allport is a Vancouver based percussionist who also works in a pared down sound focused style working primarily with a snare and a floor tom used mainly to resonate other objects. Gust Burns plays piano in various styles but again in the contexts I’ve mainly seen him in it is nearly exclusive by rubbing dowels placed betwixt the strings.  For this show though he had constructed a rough wooden box with a certain amount of the guts of a piano recreated within. Like an ultra Lo-Fi DIY version of Andrea Neumann’s instrument sans electronics.

Things settled down and the lights dimmed and the three of them sat there in silence for a moment. Shortly Nate removed the mouthpiece from his trumpet and began softly blowing into it as Jeffery began bowing the metal stays on his floor tom.  Gust had grab a long thin dowel but as the high pitched sounds from Jefferey’s bowing began he switched to a shorter dowel and sticking it into the strings of his contraption he began to generate a low rustling sound. The piece developed forthwith and for a good space of time lost all acoustic elements and sound like this cobbled together sheet metal walking machine shambling down a rock strewn landscape slowing shaking itself apart. Fantastic sounds totally disconnected to their source.  I spent much of this piece not looking at the musicians just letting the sounds come in as a single entity. Things settled down to a near stillness until Nate burbling through his trumpet brought it up to the loudest section of this piece.  Jefferey was bowing metal bowls on his drums with what looked like aluminum pie plates in them for a loud-ish buzzing rattle as Gust thumped his frame and stroked his dowels. Slowly things wound down from this point and as it hit zero activity they concluded.

A quick conferral and they began a second piece.  This one was a bit shorter and had several much less abstract sections which were an interesting contrast. Jeffery began the piece with widely separated single strikes on his floor tom with a mallet.  Nate after a couple of seconds brought up a small sheet of brass in front of his muted trumpet and created some muffled rattles and squeaks. Gust grabbed a long thin dowel and using a downward stroking motion on it generated high pitched purer tones.  This was a nice combination, spaced out by breaths, dowel length and Jefferey’s slow, slow time.  As he beat out this syrupy tattoo he grabbed a cymbal and placed it upon the snare. Soon he added edgy bowed metal to the proceedings and at some point Gust switched back to the dryer more textural sounds.  Nate did a section that was nearly free improv-ish, firer, though not too loud, free sounds on the trumpet, in a tonal range if not strictly melodic.  Jeffery moved to using a rubber ball mallet rubbed across the floor tom with the low moaning sounds that generated.  In the midst of a fairly active section they looked at each and then just stopped. A great sudden ending and a nice contrast to the slow fade out of the first piece.

Nate Wooley compositions for large improvising ensemble
with Jesse Canterbury (clarinets), Greg Sinibaldi (tenor sax), Jeffrey Allport (percussion), Nate Wooley (trumpet), Robert Blatt (acoustic guitar), Gust Burns (piano guts), Chris Stover (trombone), Mara Sedlins (Viola), Marc Collins (double bass), Wilson Shook (sax), Richard Johnson (trombone)

The audience had seemed pretty large for the trio set but at the break the bulk of them got up and got on “stage” as the Large Improvising Ensemble.  They were performing a piece of Nate Wooley’s which seemed to be structured along the following lines:  You have a certain amount to play but you can play it when you want. Sounds are played at a maximal natural length namely breath length.  There seemed to be something on the graphic looking score that could be interpreted as dynamics as several members of the Ensemble chose to play much louder at various times.  Overall the piece had this shifting droney quality as there was almost always these long sounds going on, but typically each player would play for a while and then pause for a while.  This lead to a steady decrease in density as various players concluded their sections.  There was some nice spikier sounds added in by Jefferey in particular but also Gust and Robert playing a lightly prepared guitar and Marc who played his bass with a variety of objects.  There were I thought a few “bad actors” who overly dramatically played their louder bits. One of the trombonists in particular really blasted the room with his tones.

Overall I’d say I found the piece a bit too dense and a bit to monotonous.  It really could have used a wider variety of instruments, more percussion, some electronics say to break up the layers of horns. Some method to insert a bit of space into the proceedings would have been nice, but would have radically changed the nature of the piece. Perhaps if played over the course of an hour instead of the half hour it last it would have naturally spread out.  While there often would be up to a half dozen players laying out that still meant there was another half dozen playing.  With an extended time frame you’d have to have sections of only a few or no players active. Alternatively you could of course have few musicians involved.  For what it was it certainly could have been a lot less interesting and in this fashion I’m glad it wasn’t overly long. It wasn’t the totally mess that most large group things are  and there certainly are possibilities here. It will be interesting to see how Nate further develops these compositions.