Nate Wooley is one of the most thoughtful and interesting musicians working in New York. Battle Pieces makes daring new explorations into song structure, reinventing the relationships between members of an ensemble in a way that retains an alert sharpness during every live performance. Since the band formed for Anthony Braxton’s Tri-Centric Music Festival in 2014, Wooley’s collaborators Ingrid Laubrock (saxophones), Sylvie Courvoisier (piano), and Matt Moran (vibraphone) together have been consistently defining the cutting edge of music today.
Wooley is one of the subtlest musicians working in creative music today and his wide range of expression makes every sound count. On this night at Roulette in Brooklyn, the music arrived like a carnival coming by train or a string of automobiles–distant sounds growing, seemingly far away, then expanding as they approached the audience along the horizon, coming closer and closer until it was revolving all around and within us. This is one of the delectable qualities of Wooley’s work: how at every live performance, one feels as if he has drawn you into the very center of the universe. It is a fearless vulnerability that he offers the audience, an intimate tour of his imagination through sonic landscapes of vivid and vital color. Once we are drawn into the inner circle, it feels as if we forget all else beyond, if even just for a moment.
The band explored the relational possibilities of solos, duets, trios, and the full band. Laubrock and Moran greeted each other with soft sounds and the saxophonist crystallized these malleable phrases with the clicking of her keys. Wooley supplied airy trumpet noise as Courvoisier moved to the center with a solo evolving the sound into a buoyant rhapsody, eventually allowing the sounds to evaporate into the stillness of the grand hall.
In the band’s second piece, Wooley worked a low drone, building the landscape of the piece, while the other three filled space with energy of various kinds as well as doses of the unexpected. Wooley’s solo then began moving in what felt like multiple directions at once, explosive yet ethereal, ascendant yet not overbearing. Moran and Courvoisier joined Wooley to make the piece full-bodied, while Laubrock added light and texture before the entire sound mellowed. Then, one of the golden moments of the evening had Courvoisier and Wooley in a long duet of churning piano with trumpet surfing on top at high speed. From there, Couvoisier, Laubrock, and Moran created a more somber environment for Wooley’s muted trumpet to explore.
The set was recorded and will be released on Relative Pitch in late 2019.