By Dan Coffey
The nucleus of musicians on The Nows is percussionist Paul Lytton and Nate Wooley, an up-and-coming trumpet legend who is also credited on this album with “amplifier.” Spread out between two discs, The Nows essentially contains three different groups, each with their own distinct personality.
The Nows covers two Lytton/Wooley performances from their 2011 US tour. The first disc captures them playing as a duo in a 35 minute free-jazz piece that veers from high-energy to calm concentration, but always with the thrill of not knowing what’s coming next. The next two tracks on the disc, which was from a concert given at The Stone in New York City, feature Ikue Mori alongside the duo, credited with playing “computer.” Mori’s playfully anarchic presence seems to cause Lytton and Wooley to sit back and listen more than they might have otherwise. And, of course, with Mori’s penchant for all manner of sounds, including ersatz percussion, it’s delightfully difficult at times to pick out who is playing which instrument.
The second disc also opens with Lytton and Wooley performing as a duo, this time at The Midnight in Chicago, 14 days after the concert featured on the first disc. This time we’re treated to two duo performances – the first about half the length of the previous disc’s duo performance and the second a powerhouse four-minute workout that may make one wish it was the 35-minute duo track on the previous disc (depending, of course, on one’s temperament at the time of listening). These two duo tracks are followed by three with the addition of Ken Vandermark, playing clarinet, bass clarinet, and tenor and baritone saxophone. As might be expected given Vandermark’s presence, Wooley and Lytton largely dispense with the concentration and tentative silences that are a defining characteristic of their playing alongside Mori. The interesting thing about these two is that, even before the third musician enters the field, they seem to have already altered their dynamic to allow for that musician’s presence. The Nows is a fantastic study in contrasts, from the whimsy and delicacy (and occasional noise!) of the concert with Mori, to the high-speed blustering conversation with Vandermark. This two-disc set showcases two generations of free improvisers (Lytton, of course, has been around for decades) closing the generation gap and making extraordinary music as a duo and with two of the finest American improvisers.