Nate Wooley’s prodigious talent, expanding musical sensibilities and keen intelligence has overwhelmed any trepidation he feels about performing in public. He has a composition titled I Prefer the Company of Birds. The 42 year old trumpeter and bandleader shared humorous and touching stories about his bouts of social anxiety with 75 concert goers at the Shea Theater on Sunday, November 6.
Before launching into their 70-minute set, Wooley explained his decision to set up shop in the “pit” rather than on the stage of the lovely Turners Falls venue built in 1927. After spending many years of his youth in the back row of big bands (“as far away as one could get from the girls dancing in the back”), he vowed in the future to get as close to the people as possible when playing. This upset the plans of videographer Dennis Steiner of the Archive Project, who was anticipating the superior angles and light afforded from the stage. Instead, the band: Josh Sinton, Matt Moran, Eivind Opsvik, Harris Eisenstadt and Wooley, basked in half shadow throughout the evening.
If the visuals were impaired, the sound was not. Each member of the group was heard clearly and to great effect. The concert, drawn largely from Wooley’s recent recording, (Dance to) The Early Music, (Clean Feed, 2015) featured five mid-career artists at the peak of their powers. Wooley can do things on the trumpet that only a small number of people on the planet can do. The dazzling series of smears, bleats, swallowed notes and split tones, delivered with speed and musicality, caused murmurs and muffled laughter from the crowd. His unaccompanied solo that introduced Skain’s Domain, was breathtaking, like stepping out for a first view from the rim of the Grand Canyon.
Most of the evening’s music was written by Wynton Marsalis, and found on his earliest recordings. That a so-called avant-garde trumpeter would choose to interpret the music of a conservative stylist like Marsalis might seem like a strange choice, perhaps one born of cynicism or parody. In fact, as Wooley explained, after a traumatic experience at sleepaway band camp, he and his father spent the drive home repeatedly listening to Marsalis’ Black Codes (From the Underground). The music had a profound impact on the young Wooley, providing inspiration and direction.
I have found that as a group, jazz musicians are flexible, ingenious and hard to ruffle. That was again illustrated when vibraphonist Matt Moran discovered he had left his cross bar, which stabilizes the instrument and holds the pedal, home. Finding a piece of wood, a whittling knife, gaffer’s tape and a drill borrowed from Jazz Shareholder Ken Irwin, Moran fashioned a replacement. No one (but him) noticed the difference. Using two or four mallet technique, Moran made his instrument sing, adding color and drive to the proceedings.
Incidentally, you should check out his fabulous new recording of Duke Ellington’s Far East Suite by his nine-piece Balkan brass band, Slavic Soul Party!.
What a treat to hear a bass clarinet in concert, especially in the hands of Josh Sinton. The son of shareholders John and Wendy Sinton, Josh performed during season one of Pioneer Valley Jazz Shares with his outstanding Steve Lacy-inspired quartet, Ideal Bread. That ensemble featured Josh on baritone saxophone. On Sunday we were treated to the rich, woody sound of bass clarinet, played with reverence and irreverence by a master of the instrument.
Drummer Harris Eisenstadt, who will be back in the Valley on February 12 with Old Growth Forrest (Tony Malaby, Jeb Bishop, Jason Roebke), blended perfectly with Wooley’s Quintet, providing just what was needed to needle and spark. He told us of his recent trips to Cuba to study and absorb. Perhaps his solo, played with his hands, reflected this interest in Afro-Cuban drumming. His solo did not sound Latin per se, but the way his fingers and hands hit the skins reminded me of the great Latin hand drummers.
Embodying the bass as backbone, Eivind Opsvik provided the armature for the ensemble’s quirky flights, creating supple bass lines that rooted and routed expectations in equal measure. Eivind will be back on March 27 to perform with Mary Halvorson’s Reverse Blue.
All hail the awkward, the oddballs, the misfits and outsiders, who point us in new directions and help us discover novel perspectives.