AMN Reviews: Nate Wooley – Seven Storey Mountain VI (2020; Pyroclastic Records)

Nate Wooley is a thinking person’s composer. Through his recordings, you can hear the struggle between structure and freedom, as well as between texture and form. Wooley writes in a fashion that provides music on the page but is also fine-tuned to the preferred patterns of his chosen collaborators – some of whom opt for a more open-ended framework. As a listener, however, you never get the sense that he is overly sure of himself or that his recorded pieces are the final word – instead, his albums are snapshots in time of Wooley’s evolution as a creator and performer.

Seven Storey Mountain VI is the latest of a cycle that Wooley has been working on since 2007. His process involves developing a timing track of manipulated sounds (often taken from earlier pieces of the cycle), then adding instructions to it including written melodies, chord changes, or guided improvisation.  Wooley’s collaborators in this process are many, such as drummers Chris Corsano, Ryan Sawyer, and Ben Hall, violinists C. Spencer Yeh and Samara Lubelski, pedal steel guitarist Susan Alcorn, Rhodes players Emily Manzo and Isabelle O’Connor, and electric guitarists Ava Mendoza and Julien Desprez. They are rejoined by a 21-voice women’s choir.

The piece begins with a trancelike humming that slowly builds into a pseudo-psychedelic mass of themes, motifs, textures, and walled noises.  While virtually ambient at first, by the mid-point of the track the entire ensemble appears to be going flat out in a chaotic and multi-layered mix of drum patterns, speed-picked guitar, and horn blowouts to accompany a variety of pre-recorded sounds.  It is dense, harsh, difficult, and exhilarating.

The last 10 minutes of Seven Storey Mountain VI settles down (after a fashion) into a more deliberate piano / Rhodes driven melody with which the chorus begins a wordless chant. The chorus then sings a verse of Peggy Seeger’s Reclaim the Night – a powerful anti-misogyny statement – that brings the piece home with the repeated words, “You can’t scare me; you can’t scare me”.

This ending, in particular, demonstrates that Wooley’s approach goes beyond just the cerebral. In addition to the aforementioned intellectual struggles, Wooley is angry – pissed off – at a world that still relegates some to a second-class status just for being who they are. Thus, the choral finale is both chilling and cathartic, serving to acknowledge society’s ongoing structural inequities but to also take a bold stand against them.

Seven Storey Mountain VI comes out October 16, 2020 on Pyroclastic Records.

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