Nate Wooley

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Photo by Peter Gannushkin

Nate Wooley – trumpet, amplifier

Wooley’s solo playing has often been cited as being a part of an international revolution in improvised trumpet. Along with Peter Evans and Greg Kelley, Wooley is considered one of the leading lights of the American movement to redefine the physical boundaries of the horn, as well as demolishing the way trumpet is perceived in a historical context still overshadowed by Louis Armstrong. A combination of vocalization, extreme extended technique, noise and drone aesthetics, amplification and feedback, and compositional rigor has led one reviewer to call his solo recordings “exquisitely hostile”.

Wooley strives for intimacy in his solo performances, often engaging the audience in a combination of acoustic and amplified sound that steers between virtuosic abstraction and sincere tunefulness. His solo performances are lauded as being totally “human”, a performer providing a certain sense of vulnerability and willingness to push his own physical boundaries while constantly pulling the audience into be part of the experience.
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Columbia Icefield

Nate Wooley (trumpet and amplifier), Susan Alcorn (pedal steel guitar), Mary Halvorson or Ava Mendoza (electric guitar), Ryan Sawyer (drums and vocals)

The Columbia Icefield is an imposing behemoth, the largest icefield in the Rocky Mountains, a glacial structure that feeds into the Columbia River, and, eventually, into the Pacific Ocean. It’s alien, unapproachable, and yet, somehow, a striking metaphor for man’s relationship to nature.

With his group Columbia Icefield Nate Wooley, who saw the Columbia river every day of his youth in Oregon, tries to reckon with his relation to the icefield and, more generally, humanity in the face of the unapproachable. This alien entity is laced with contradiction and imposes itself onto the music in a magnificent way. “This record really came down to trying to build structures that have a feeling of being really large and slightly disturbing, but also, natural,” Wooley explains. “it’s earthbound, it comes from a natural place; it’s not an attack on our senses. We understand it.” And this became the chief task for Wooley and his band: how to express what is most natural and most foreign to us simultaneously?

The result is a stirring and staggering practice in being alive and the way our lives are reflected and shaped by our surroundings. For Wooley, that’s a small seafaring town shadowed by the Icefields. Columbia Icefield is about Nate Wooley and his collaborators, making the truest form of self-music imaginable.

“There’s always been this drive for me in all the work I’ve done to figure out the way to best express my own humanity,” he says. On Columbia Icefield, Wooley stares down a piece of nature almost impossible to see one’s self in; that he was able to carve a piece of his world into this glacier is a shock, until you hear the opening notes of “Lionel Trilling.” With Columbia Icefield, Nate Wooley makes it possible to see the humanity in everything.

“The prettiest, most progressive campfire music ever” (NY times)

Mutual Aid Music

Nate Wooley (trumpet), Ingrid Laubrock (saxophone), Joshua Modney (violin), Mariel Roberts (cello), Sylvie Courvoisier and Cory Smythe (piano), Matt Moran and Russell Greenberg (percussion)

This is a new ensemble of Nate Wooley’s that furthers the ideas presented in Battle Pieces (consisting of Laubrock, Courvoisier, Moran and Wooley) and knknighgh (with Lotte Anker, Felix Henkelhausen and Dre Hocevar). Social Music, as he calls it, asks the musicians to support each other in the search for something new and interesting; a music that is not only greater than the compositional whole, but has the potential to make us rethink the balance between composition and improvisation.

MAM, which releases its first—self-titled—CD in April 2021 (Pleasure of the Text Records) is made up of a double quartet of some of the most interesting and skillful musicians in New York’s jazz and contemporary music worlds. Each of them are comfortable in crossing the boundaries between the two and have excellent reputations as composers, interpreters, and improvisers. Together, their music is proof that spontaneous interaction can be every bit as deep as a complex score and every bit as exciting as a totally free improvisation.

Although all eight players appear on the first recording, the ensemble is purposely designed to take different shapes for concert and touring purposes, ranging from trios to the full octet to ensemble plus local guests.
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Seven Storey Mountain

“Ecstaticism” is a term coined by Nate Wooley for the hoped achievements of his seven part song cycle for large ensemble: Seven Storey Mountain. It is named after the autobiography and religious tract of American Trappist monk and writer Thomas Merton. The project, which started in 2009, has only an indirect connection to religion or mysticism. Instead, the Seven Storey Mountain compositions work to create a sense of ecstatic joy and emotional release that is purely human; made by people for people.

SSM began as a commission by Dave Douglas’s FONT organization. The first piece was performed by a trio of Paul Lytton, David Grubbs and Nate Wooley along with tape accompaniment. Later versions were performed by different musicians from the jazz, new music, noise, and rock communities. Each successive version of the piece has been transformative; both with the tape and the orchestration.  

Seven Storey Mountain VI was called a “god-damn masterpiece” by critic Peter Margasak and featured as record of the year on his own website, as well as The Quietus, Free Jazz Blog, and El Intruso’s International Critics Poll for 2020. The piece is the sixth in the seven-part song cycle and is Wooley’s largest, most complex, and most ecstatic composition to date. 

The piece is built around the words of Peggy Seeger, from her song “Reclaim the Night,” and is a protest against the violence done on women’s bodies that was written at a time that state governments in the US were actively working to take away the reproductive rights of their citizens.

The on-stage group features some of the most iconoclastic voices in jazz and experimental music today, including Nate Wooley on trumpet, C. Spencer Yeh and Samara Lubelski on violins, Susan Alcorn on pedal steel guitar, Julien Desprez and Ava Mendoza on electric guitars, and Chris Corsano, Ben Hall, and Ryan Sawyer on drums alongside Isabelle O’Connell and Emily Manzo on electric pianos. New music superstar soprano Megan Schubert led the choir.

Seven Storey Mountain VI requires a skeleton crew from the original performances to tour. Beyond that, there are possibilities for using local musicians, especially in the vocal parts, to fill out to full ensemble size.

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