December 12, 2009
Throw Down Your Hammer and Sing
Daniel Levin Quartet
Live at Roulette
Clean Feed CF 147 CD
One of the trumpeters who, over the past few years, have committed to lower-case improvisation, Brooklyn-based Nate Wooley has also subtly adapted his distinctive playing to different situations. As a matter of fact, listening to these noteworthy CDs, it may appear as if Wooley, who was born in the Pacific Northwest, has a separate Midwestern and East Cost persona.
That statement may be a bit louche however. That’s because the fragmented texture-gliding he exhibits with Chicagoans cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm – who may be the most-frequently recorded cellist in New music – and bassist Jason Roebke, who anchors a clutch of Windy City combos – is close to what the trumpeter brings to some New York groups. However as a charter member of cellist Daniel Levin’s quartet since 2001, he attentively tries to meld with the impressionistic and legato impulses from the cellist as Live at Roulette attests. The band is filled out by vibist Matt Moran, who also plays in drummer John Hollenbeck’s ensembles, and bassist Peter Bitenc.
On the other hand, jagged, discordant and slightly off-centre timbres on the five tracks on Throw Down Your Hammer and Sing aptly demonstrate how fungible textures from buzzed brass growls and portamento string slices can be. Although Roebke mostly sticks to pedal-point shuffles and rhythmic thumps, the resulting tones from his bull fiddle are the only ones that can’t be mistaken for others from the remaining improvisers’ instruments.
“Sans Aluminumius” for example, builds up from metallic, unattached ruffling and buzzing lines that are so opaque that only latterly do they partition into string scrubs and elongated air blowing. Precedents could come from New music, but very few of those designed compositions include what sounds like the string players abrasively rubbing their knuckles on their instruments’ exposed wood. Further, as string strategy sluices to tremolo runs and rubato slides and stops, Wooley brays unaltered air through his horn’s body tube. The finale finds the others still figuratively wrenching their instruments’ bodies apart as the trumpeter flutters an epistle of rubato grace notes
Sul ponicello and col legno string expositions figure into other tracks as do brass twists and tremolo pacing, but the contrapuntal results are usually kept from sounding too similar when Lonberg-Holm unleashes electronic-patched slide-whistle-like shrills and burbles.
On “Anywhere, Anyplace At All” – a spot-on description of an improviser’s life plan – the signal-processed whirligigs switch on-and-off in seconds, coloring the string players’ combined sul tasto rumbles and the trumpeter’s unvarying tongue positions. Eventually as the program jump from elevated to sonorous pitches and from andante to adagio, sandpaper-like bass string thumping and scrubbing plus dislocated chromatic note twists provide a polyphonic backing to the cellist’s strident scratches and spiccato runs.
“Saint Mary” on the other hand is more concerned with diverted clicks of the bow against strings and unprocessed air circulating through valves and tubing. Echoes and minute sweeps are reminiscent of some of Levin’s sonic strategies.
With distinct syntax, the 10 group-compositions on Live at Roulette are in the main, gentler, more legato and touching on mainstream elements from both jazz and so-called classical chamber ensembles. Sometimes the set up involves waves of chromatic brass tones and pitter-patter vibe resonation, backed by Bitenc’s pedal point and shaded by harmonies from the cellist.
Titled with the participants’ names, a few of the tracks could be designed as miniature musical portraits, but in band context. “Matt” for instance, may depend on repeated sustain pedal notes and continuous double-timed rhythm from Moran, but Levin and Wooley contribute as well. The cellist builds up from a buzzing murmur to sul ponticello runs while a similar initial silence on the trumpeter’s part is replaced by internal Bronx cheers.
Not to be outdone, the two tracks entitled “Nate/Daniel I” and “Nate/Daniel II” includes participation from the others. While “Nate/Daniel II” encompasses mutual inchoate dissonance made up of growls and squealing split tones from Wooley and rhythmic string thumps from Levin, “Nate/Daniel I” is more collegial
Levin’s faltering string patterns are given added strength from Bitenc’s sweetening thumps and plucks. These background colors could allow Wooley’s chromatic gestures to transform into a skewed version of “Summertime” – if he could rouse himself from languendo to do so. That promise remains unfulfilled, but the trumpeter’s understated tone splinters are given added poignancy by an additional sonic undercurrent from Moran’s vibe motor pulses.
Additionally each of these solo, duo or party-line conversions exhibit strategies that include building on enharmonic patterns to showcasing singular techniques. Moran’s bell-like ringing and chiming mallet work decorates or bonds certain tracks; while portamento string runs frequently shatter into col legno wood slaps or double bass walking. Buzzing and dislocating multiphonics come into play from the brass, string and rhythm instruments, but if partials are exhibited as well as the root notes, it’s always with modest understatement; never in-your-face.
Each of these CDs offers a double bonus. Not only can you chart the improvisational progress of Wooley, but you also get a glimpse into the compositional strategy of evolving Chicago and New York-centred musicians.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Throw: 1.Tacones Altos 2. Sans Aluminumius 3. Southern Ends Of The Earth 4. Saint Mary 5. Anywhere, Anyplace At All
Personnel: Throw: Nate Wooley (trumpet); Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello) and Jason Roebke (bass)
Track Listing: Live: 1. Conversation I 2. 2. Matt 3. Delicate 4. 4. Peter 5. Lightspeed Particles I 6. Nate/Daniel I 7. Conversation II 8. Scratchy 9. Lightspeed Particles II 10. Nate/Daniel II
Personnel: Live: Nate Wooley (trumpet); Daniel Levin (cello); Peter Bitenc (bass) and Matt Moran (vibraphone)