RED Trio + Nate Wooley – Stem (CF 249)

Clifford Allen, The New York City Jazz Record (2012/27/05)

One of the crucial things about this music is that the concept of a band’s instrumentation is, ultimately, less important than who is playing. We think of the format of a piano trio, an organ group, or a piano-less quartet as given, into which one plugs the holes with artists who have (or can have) a good rapport and the music works itself out in that context. Such ideas have defined ‘jazz’ to some degree for generations. But the last few decades have introduced an incredible amount of flexibility both in how ensembles approach the music, as well as the possibilities inherent in each instrument. Two of trumpeter Nate Wooley’s most recent releases are poised to defy any traditional assumptions about ‘trumpet and rhythm’ even if he’s the only horn.

Six Feet Under joins Wooley with a frequent collaborator, English percussionist Paul Lytton, as well as Swiss bassist Christian Weber on a program of five improvisations. As a trumpet and percussion duo, Wooley and Lytton have circumvented any notions of a drum-and-bugle corps through extensive use of electronics, amplification, voice and close mic’ing, to the point that sound sources are indistinguishable. SixFeet Under isn’t that kind of record, though – Lytton’s kit is more or less traditional, albeit played with light, open concentration and controlled metric wrangling. Wooley’s screams, growls, circular breathing and unsettled chuffs are out in full effect, but tressed by Weber’s massive arco on the opening “Pushing up Daisies”. If it is a fracas, it is conscious of the logic behind group motion. “Nickel Eyes” opens with a syrupy cry, the kind not quite heard from Wooley in this way. He’s translated the harrier-ache of Albert Ayler from tenor to trumpet and he pulls it into a dry, laconic swing against precision flits and a meaty pizzicato anchor. Much of “La Grande Mort” is rootedin long, murky tones and ancillary subversion – the latter almost comedic when bright, muted trumpet and scratched drumheads supplant a protracted, guttural pinch. As both a power trio and an exploratory vehicle, Six Feet Under is a brilliantly equilateral recording.

Stem finds Wooley in the company of one of Europe’s most interesting small groups, Portugal’s RED Trio: pianist Rodrigo Pinheiro, bassist Hernani Faustino and drummer Gabriel Ferrandini. Somewhat akin to ARC (Corea/Holland/Altschul) or the Howard Riley Trio, RED subverts the traditional roles of piano, bass and drums to create a continual hum of percussive-melodic activity. Pinheiro uses the full resources of the instrument, muting and plucking the strings while generating a stark, tense environment from obsessively repeated clusters. Toward the end of “Flapping Flight” he creates a steely drone underneath Wooley’s shrieks and sighs, outlined with brush patter and Faustino’s low harmonics. Swiping whistles across some flat object on “Phase”, Wooley mirrors a palimpsest of feedback and piano resonance before crumpling into a distorted whinny, as the trio’s muscularity is positioned front and center. Subversion is part of the RED aesthetic too, Pinheiro matching the trumpeter’s terse, hot monochromes with well-behind-the-beat chords and rhapsodic head-butts. RED are highly economical and well apprised of the Tradition – at least one can hear it in the pianist’s ringing melodic stabs, which somehow occupy a region between forcing a series of phrases and sweetly caressing them. This coy aggressiveness mates well with Wooley’s clear, instantaneous responseand hackle-raising explosions. The foursome are constantly in action even when ostensibly ‘hushed’ -pursed exhalation, bowed cymbals and low rumblearen’t alien to their palette, maddeningly approaching Nuova Consonanza extremes on the closing “Tides”. Each of the five pieces presents a different group axis, often discomfortingly set between the well-marked poles of brash expressionism and coiled reflection.

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