Nate Wooley Sextet

(Sit In) The Throne of Friendship
Clean Feed CF 280 CD

Frank Rosaly

Cicada Music

Delmark DL 5006

Transferring personal compositional notions to an ensemble can be challenging, depending on the size and makeup of the group. Both the vibraphone-centred sessions here – led respectively by Chicago drummer Frank Rosaly and New York trumpeter Nate Wooley – avoid the obvious drawbacks by entrusting the interpretations to long-time associates. However the drummer hedges his beats by mixing brief earlier tracks, recorded solo or in quintet formation, with far superior sextet outings from three years later. By maintaining a consistency of vision however, Wooley’s CD comes out on top. Another point of intersection is that while both leaders are identified with the so-called avant-garde, there’s a genuine commitment to showcasing exciting motion in the composition – call it jazz or swing if you wish.

Rosaly, whose reputation was made backing up everyone from flutist Nicole Mitchell to saxophonist Dave Rempis, has gathered a crew of Windy City denizens around him. Besides vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz and bassist Jason Roebke, the band includes reedists James Falzone (clarinet), Jason Stein (bass clarinet) and Keefe Jackson (bass and contra bass clarinet plus tenor saxophone). Many of the compositions contrast Adasiewicz’s chiming improvisations with low-pitched responses from the others. Wooley, who is as apt to be playing with British drummer Paul Lytton as Apple locals has rounded up a similarly impressive crew. Here Matt Moran is the vibist, Eivind Opsvik the bassist and Harris Eisenstadt the drummer, with Josh Sinton’s bass clarinet and baritone saxophone supplying stentorian reed sounds. In another departure from Cicada Music, (Sit In) The Throne of Friendship – an apt title for either disc –varies its brass timbres by also focusing on the higher pitches of the trumpeter and the low tones of Dan Peck’s tuba.

On Rosaly’s disc the meat of the session come on the five lengthy selections recorded in 2011with the full sextet. The snippets from Rosaly’s 2008 score for a local film called Scrappers are no more than bagatelles, although interesting at points for a glimpse of the composer’s overdubbed drums and piano work, in one case, or Africanized percussion on another. If anything though a full band track like “Driven” could in itself serve as a Film Noir soundtrack, contrasting staccato vibe resonations and medium-paced bass work. Before Adasiewicz’s motor-driven reverb completes the statement, a lyrical counter line courtesy of Falzone stands out.

While Rosaly’s percussion smarts are unbeatable throughout, other tracks concentrate on the versatility of the thee-man horn section. Combined in canon-like fashion they can produce unison riffs that almost sound organ-like. Other tunes such as “Tragically Positive”, aurally takes wing in the middle. Here aviary squeaks, chirps and trills are exposed with double and triple tonguing that appear to be unable to become more multiphonic or cacophonous as it reaches a crescendo. Finally the tune is brought to earth by thick bass lines and the drummer’s climatic pops and rebounds.

“Bedbugs”, the longest tracks is also the most atonal. Cycling through successive waves of tension and release, the jerky theme is finally stated by harmonized vibes and clarinet. As it evolves, the horns continue tremolo repetition, as the drummer throws in the odd Latinesque rolls and pops. Swaying and swinging simultaneously, multiple outpourings coat the solos like molasses, with the climatic conclusion as concentrated as it is affecting.

Unlike Rosaly’s somewhat pieced-together session, Wooley’s is all of a part, with most of the tunes brisk and diffident. Showcasing Peck as well as Moran, the trumpeter demonstrates his idiosyncrasies as early as track one which is a brassy, pressurized recasting of Randy Newman’s “Old Man on the Farm”. More generic to his strategy are the other pieces – all of which he composed – which collectively appear to be rushing forward to complete their mission(s). With a more spacious palate than Rosaly, Wooley can build a contrapuntal line such as “Plow” in such a way that the exposition and conclusion resemble West Coast Jazz as played by trumpeter Jack Sheldon and vibist Vic Feldman; while a crucial centre section depends on the contrast between his feathery triplets and Stinson’s leathery baritone blowing. At the same time the reedist doesn’t overuse his horns’ expected bottom registers. Instead he frequently uses the horns’ contralto and even altissimo registers to blend with the others and keep the tunes moving.

Because of this, some compositions are built on agreeable contrasts that help distinguish the lines as they move chromatically. Whether it’s tuba burps paired with reed vocalizing à la Rahsaan Roland Kirk the better to outline Moran’s stop-time pings on the title tune; or “Executive Suites”, which inserts a showcase of vibe chiming in between drum smacks and parallel staccato trumpet improvising, the effect is never less than notable.

Self-effacing, Wooley also saves the extended brass showpiece for “A Million Billion BTUs”, which also includes ample room for pedal-point buzzing from Peck, and swallowed slurs from Sinton among the trumpeter’s broken-chord duet with the drummer. Beginning with a solo that cycles through many capillary permutations, Wooley’s pop song-like theme hardens with staccato cries as Eisenstadt buttresses the beat and the brass man contributes slurring tongue flutters. Wooley’s textures are almost the same as they are on “Old Man on the Farm” – connecting this tune’s head and the entire project.

Like many other recent Wooley CDs, (Sit In) The Throne of Friendship is first rate. Notwithstanding its fragmented form, Cicada Music includes some interesting themes and performances as well. If Rosaly showcases them with a more concentrated group in the future, he too may reach the same heights.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Cicada: 1. The Dark 2. Wet Feet Splashing 3. Yards 4. Babies 5. Adrian 6. Driven 7. Tragically Positive 8. Bedbugs 9. Typophile/Apples 10. Credits.

Personnel: Cicada: James Falzone (clarinet); Jason Stein (bass clarinet); Keefe Jackson (bass and contra bass clarinet and tenor saxophone); Jason Adasiewicz (vibraphone); Jason Roebke (bass) and Frank Rosaly (drums, percussion, piano and electronics)

Track Listing: Friendship 1. Old Man on the Farm 2. Make Your Friend Feel Loved 3. The Berries 4. Plow 5. Executive Suites 6. My Story, My Story 7. Sweet and Sad Consistency 8. A Million Billion BTUs

Personnel: Friendship: Nate Wooley (trumpet); Dan Peck (tuba); Josh Sinton (bass clarinet and baritone saxophone); Matt Moran (vibraphone); Eivind Opsvik (bass) and Harris Eisenstadt (drums)