By Bradley Bambarger | Published April 2019
Trumpeter Nate Wooley has an uncommonly broad purview as both an instrumentalist and conceptualist. He’s rigorously intrepid and impossible to pigeonhole, whether it’s his avant-garde solo performances or such projects as his previous album, (Dance To) The Early Music, which found Wooley reanimating the early small-band music of Wynton Marsalis. Different again, Columbia Icefield finds the Oregon-bred New Yorker conjuring the epic expanse of the Canadian Rockies’ titular glacier across three long, textured compositions.
The unusual instrumentation of Wooley’s Columbia Icefield quartet feels ideal to the task: virtuosic Susan Alcorn on pedal steel, the ever-distinctive Mary Halvorson on six-string, Ryan Sawyer behind the kit, alongside the leader’s often strikingly lyrical horn and occasional amplifier effects. Opener “Lionel Trilling”—the rare tune named after a literary critic—blends Steve Reich-ian minimalism with howling interludes and hovering atmospherics to absorbing effect. The high-lonesome sound of “Seven In The Woods” echoes with hints of abstracted Americana, before being capped by an extended, wind-shear solo by Halvorson. “With Condolences,” although some of its growling vocal effects are a shade gimmicky, ranges across an emotional expanse like a dark-hued tone poem, featuring Wooley’s most pensive playing and an affecting recitation by Sawyer.
Evocative yet never literal, ambitious while approachable, Columbia Icefield easily ranks as Wooley’s most beautiful music yet.
Columbia Icefield: Lionel Trilling; Seven In The Woods; With Condolences. (53:14)
Personnel: Nate Wooley, trumpet; Susan Alcorn, pedal steel; Mary Halvorson, guitar; Ryan Sawyer, drums, vocals.