Paul Lytton and Nate Wooley make a good match. The English drummer and the American trumpeter (respectively) are a pair of iconoclasts, and on The Nows they create strangely alluring modern improvised music that contains not one iota of anything musical. The Nows, a two-CD set, was recorded during two stops on the duo’s 2011 tour, which featured collaborations with other musicians. Half of each set presented here features guest spots: computer artist Ikue Mori on one, multi-reedsman Ken Vandermark on the other.
Lytton’s pointillistic style, which could hardly be called rhythm keeping or even drumming, is sharply focused. He skitters the sticks on the skins and scrapes metallic gewgaws against one another, creating the impression of a handyman tottering about in his workshop. Wooley does everything he can to convince you that the trumpet is not intended for playing notes: barking, moaning, chirping, shrieking, muttering, murmuring, cackling, weeping, belching and otherwise exclaiming through the mouthpiece. One moment these guys sound like an industrial accident—the next, like a kitchen with a teapot boiling on the stove. The opener, the 35 1/2-minute “Free Will, Free Won’t,” is not a song, it’s a collection of random noises. Yet I want to listen to it again and again.
The two guests fit perfectly but in starkly different ways. The listener barely notices when Mori joins in and begin whirring and squeaking via her laptop. Lytton meets her halfway, and their exchange on “Abstractions and Replications” is so simultaneously electronic and organic that it sounds like a conversation between two cyborgs. Vandermark is equally comfortable engaging Lytton, Wooley or both at the same time, and it’s truly a conversation—an atonal conversation, but a conversation nonetheless—despite his muscular tendencies.