AMN Reviews: Nate Wooley – Battle Pieces II (2017; Relative Pitch Records)

With Nate Wooley, the journey is more important than the destination – in fact arriving at an intended location (or any particular outcome for that matter) is not required. Battle Pieces II, which will be out September 15 on Relative Pitch Records, is a follow-up to Wooley’s 2014 Battle Pieces recording. Featuring the same lineup (Wooley on trumpet, Ingrid Laubrock on saxophones, Sylvie Courvoisier on piano, and Matt Moran on vibes), this sophomore effort was recorded live at The Loft in Köln, Germany after the group had had a chance to refine and expand the original material.

Not unlike its predecessor, this album is based on a musical system. Notably, over 100 snippets that exercise the textural and timbral aspects of each instrument and groups thereof. The result is something that is not free improv, but a spontaneous composition formed according to a set of rules. The arrangements focus on one or two lead instruments, with the others filling in the gaps and providing accents. There certainly are melodies and harmonies on these four pieces, but they are short and fleeting. The lead instrumentalist is given room to express him or herself, and it should be no surprise that these four do so in an “outside” fashion. Still, the pieces tend to move slowly and in an atmospheric manner, even when the playing gets frenetic.

After a few listens to Battle Pieces II, one cannot help but think that Wooley is not so much a composer, but an architect of musical language. Similar to Anthony Braxton (one of his mentors and a clear inspiration), Wooley designs meta-musical constructs that set forth particular constraints within which a group can explore and experiment. Wooley and company could exercise these elements every day for a year and never repeat themselves. Let’s hope this journey continues regardless of where it ends up.