Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Nate Wooley, Mutual Aid Music


Good things of course may come in small packages. With standardization though after a while everything may come in small packages--as in the case of the CD at large in the world today. My job in part is to alert you to some of the good things in that line.

And so today we have trumpeter-composer Nate Wooley and his Mutual Aid Music (Pleasure of the Text Records POTTR1309 2-CD). It is surely one of the good things. It comes together out of an Avant-Jazz-meets-New-Music point of view with a chamber ensemble of notable players--Ingrid Laubrock, saxophone, Joshua Modney, violin, Mariel Roberts on cello, Sylvie Courvoisier and Cory Smythe on pianos, Matt Moran on vibes, Russell Greenberg on percussion, and Nate Wooley on trumpet.

The title Mutual Aid Music gives us a clue to how the music is conceived. Mutual aid in the most general sense assumes a community in which each member takes stock of his or her abilities or gifts if you will and then how in any situation they each can make use of their gifts to benefit the group as a whole.

For the strictly musical group at hand Wooley wishes each player to make improvisatory contributions that make the totality of the ensemble sound better, open up new possibilities and/or inspire all to make choices that are selfless.

Wooley puts all together in an effort to move beyond the "dialectic bubble" of composition/improvisation, while encouraging the idea of spontaneity and empathy, to provide each musician with the opportunity to make decisions, to "find the right kind of architecture for the musicians to push themselves to the transcendent collectivities inherent...in new music and improvisation."

How this takes place, to hint at something more complex than space allows us to fully discuss here, basically comes out of assigning for each work, for each musician a set of notated musical elements from which they make choices and decisions as to what they will play and when. The liner notes go into much greater detail and you should read them to get a more precise idea of what is transpiring. Each musician has for any given composition one or two sets of notations and/or graphic scores, textual instructions, etc. That is the case for seven of the eight musicians in each concerto. Then there is the eighth player who is invited to contribute a completely improvised part.

The first CD presents four "Mutual Aid Music" Concertos. The second CD gives us another version of those four works.

In the end is a series of complex and open-ended segments of music where each member of the ensemble and then the concerted improviser is free yet all has a direction that is neither rigorously specified like some New Music can be, nor is it entirely "free" as some Avant Jazz of course can be.

The novel means by which this music comes to us, after you understand how that is the case, helps you to appreciate it all the more, but then if you knew nothing of it the music would I suspect retain its communal efficacy.

Nate Wooley gives us a landmark set of what at one time might have been called "Third Stream" offerings. The musicians perform remarkably well. They turn what in other hands might have become a kind of experimental exercise and breathe real musical life into it all. And the framework itself seems to inspire and vary the results very nicely.

Very much recommended.

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