Last year, Nate Wooley stood alone on the stage of the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, and placed a thin piece of sheet metal against the bell of his trumpet. A soft sound slowly escaped from his horn, with the vibrating metal gradually creating a second tone. During his solo set, and later in duets with saxophonist Ken Vandermark, Wooley performed music that conjures descriptors like “extended technique” or “noise” (in the pejorative and non-pejorative senses) and, for some, would not be considered jazz. Not that Wooley, who leads and participates in various ensembles in addition to the duo, would care.
Accordingly, the recent arrival of (Dance To) The Early Music (Clean Feed) comes as quite a surprise. The “early music” in this case refers to compositions by Wynton Marsalis that appeared on his self-titled debut, Black Codes (From the Underground) and J Mood. Those albums, all released in the 1980s, ushered in and defined a neo-conservative perspective on jazz, which would seem to be the antithesis of Wooley’s aesthetic. One year after the prankish avant-garde quartet Mostly Other People Do the Killing raised hackles with their note-for-note recreation of Kind of Blue, Wooley might appear to be going for irony or making a statement. But in a phone conversation from his New York home, it’s clear that this is no joke.