(Sit in) the Throne of Friendship (2013)

CF280

Clean Feed Records (CD)

Released July 2013; recorded at Water Music Studio, Hoboken, NJ, Dec 1, 2012; mixed by Bojan Vuletic at Ignoring Gravity Studios; mastered by Kai Blankenberg at Skyline Tonfabrik; produced by Nate Wooley; executive production by Trem Azul; design by Travassos; photography by Nuno Martins

Personnel:

Track List:

  1. Old Man on the Farm, 4:44
  2. Make Your Friend Feel Loved, 8:16
  3. The Berries, 4:40
  4. Plow, 6:13
  5. Executive Suites, 6:10
  6. My Story, My Story, 6:30
  7. Sweet and Sad Consistency, 7:13
  8. A Million Billion BTUs, 8:32

Nate Wooley is an artist with a great deal to say. This record, the second to be released by his quintet/sextet, following (Put Your) Hands Together (2011), builds on some existing themes while plunging into new territory. It seems common now for people to refer to this band as Wooley’s more “straight-ahead project” in relation to his more experimental or “out” projects. But this designation seems merely the product of a desire to categorize his work and is at the very least, misleading. These tracks are full of innovation and avant elements and contain music that pushes boundaries and shares a lot with much of Wooley’s other work. What sets this apart is its compositional structures–often dense and interactive–that make great use of the talents of each member of the sextet.

Wooley is a confident musician with an impressive capacity for emotional vulnerability. As he relayed to the audience on the opening night of his residency at Douglass Street Music Collective in November 2012, each of these songs tells a story, often as a tribute to a particular relationship or experience Wooley has had. Thus, these songs are deeply personal and revealing, as the leader bears his soul to the listener.

One of the most interesting experiments on this record is the use of tuba–sometimes replacing, but also presented in consonance with Opsvik’s bass. Wooley has traded texture for greater fluidity–a move that allows for denser, murkier pieces which draw out the accented highlights of vibes, cymbals, and drums. It may be precisely due to the styles of Moran and Eisenstadt that allow for this to reach its full expression: they provide no shortage of energy when the bass is absent–pushing, pulling, propelling the music along. But most importantly, in terms of how the music is received, the use of tuba seems to add a whole new layer of emotional depth and opportunity which fits perfectly with the overall artistic vision for the songs contained on this record.

“Old Man on the Farm” sets the tone for the record. This track, like many parts of the record, is situated along the emotional precipice between memory, mourning, exhilaration, and sentimental whimsy. Moran announces the piece with strikes to the vibes, after which it seems to unfold at a methodical pace, featuring interplay between Wooley and Sinton, while returning to a slow chorus line that suggests the listener can follow one of two approaches to the music. On the one hand, one might want to lean in closer to the speakers to dissect all of the interesting interactions between musicians, or one can sit back and enjoy the group sound with equal satisfaction.

“Make Your Friend Feel Loved” boldly announces Peck’s presence, opening with a tuba solo that lasts until 1:13 and continues over sparse drum work from Eisenstadt. Finally, vibes join the two, and moments later, the horns burst onto the scene eventually propelling Wooley into a horizontal trumpet solo that oscillates between abstract licks and tone-centered burns. Then Sinton has a solo of his own over dense interplay from rhythm and tuba, eventually clearing into light drums and vibraphone ambience. Then the piece returns to its origins, closing with another solo from Peck. Structurally, this song illustrates Wooley’s compositional approach: deep harmonies and rhythmic interplay that ultimately give way to his flickering, inner light.

“Plow” juxtaposes this feeling by opening with sparse interaction between trumpet and bass clarinet over walking tuba and bass lines, receding into a deep bass solo. Then playful horn lines emerge and, for a time, frolick with vibes and drums, again receding into silence.

Having already established a multi-directional emotional compass through the first four tunes, “Executive Suites” steadies the course as the most structured piece on the record. It has a happy-go-lucky melody involving the full band with constant interplay pulsing just underneath the surface, while it oscillates between mellow hues and more open whimsy.

“My Story, My Story” and “Sweet and Sad Consistency” give Wooley his greatest exposure on the record. The first of these opens with muted trumpet over vibraphone and bass for more than three minutes, with Eisenstadt eventually joining the delicate balance. Wooley’s trumpet lines, which change from mellow to intense in a split second, make this a volatile and sophisticated piece. The second of these two pieces is the most mournful on the album, featuring a great bass clarinet solo from Sinton.

“A Million Billion BTUs” is a fitting conclusion to the record. Wooley again opens with a solo, this time over drum and cymbal accents, eventually joined by the full sextet. Sinton has an explosive bari sax solo that provides the greatest electricity for the piece, though each member of the band adds their own spark. Drums and tuba provide the horizontal movement, with the horns adding all manner of flashing colors, followed finally with some repose with trumpet lines rolling along until the end.

Wooley’s compositions are bound together by thick, fluid exteriors that are set spinning before the audience, revealing, in varying degrees, flashes of light caught within. Wooley is articulate in his expression of much of what it means to be human: at times open, jovial, even boisterous, while at other moments distant, dark, and unyielding. This record is an impressive artistic achievement, weaving all manner of complexities into its cohesive whole. Listen first to enjoy its colorful exterior, then plunge freely into its myriad passageways that delve ever deeper into the vast recesses of the human soul.