Nate Wooley / David Grubbs / Paul Lytton – SEVEN STOREY MOUNTAIN

Important

Originally commissioned for Dave Douglas’ FONT Festival in New York and based on the namesake book by Thomas Merton, Seven Storey Mountain is a record whose layers, superimposed and stretched, disclose an underworld of unexpected revelations while also fulfilling Nate Wooley’s intention of making “a piece that had a certain feel of the ecstatic to it”. This is the first of what Wooley has planned as a seven-part project using this instrumentation, namely a trio plus taped sources (on this occasion an air conditioner, a piano and mostly unintelligible voices); yet it’s anybody’s guess if it will reach completion, given these artists’ exceedingly busy schedule. What’s truly impressive here is how “composed” this 38-minute performance sounds, despite the virtual nonexistence of rehearsals prior to the trio’s debut performance, except for the soundcheck. The musicians worked with a few sketchy directives concerning Lytton’s percussive drive (when applicable) and Grubbs’ droning harmonium, but basically the music is a simple arc structure. It begins in extreme calm, as low vibrating hums emerge from bushes of humid whispers; movement gradually increases in the central section, first with sparse notes, delirious mutterings and sinister noises, then with Lytton swinging furiously over Grubbs’ static chords, while Wooley brings a touch of madness to the situation, roughening the textures with his gargling hoarseness and abraded clumsiness. The finale brings everything back to (still charged) peace, giving us a chance to cauterize any bleeding wound with a relatively balmy ending. What about the aforementioned ecstasy? Not sure that my immediate desire to repeat the listening experience to better focus on the murkiest particulars qualifies as such, but what I do know is that any release which raises more doubts than it offers certainties is music to my ears.

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