Nate Wooley’s vast discography makes the case that the trumpeter might be one of the most diverse artists in modern jazz—even if that label doesn’t fully describe his music. To mention just two examples: (Dance to) The Early Music (2015) interpreted early compositions by Wynton Marsalis; Seven Storey Mountain VI (2020) was a beguiling blend of free improvisers and a women’s choir creating something both apocalyptic and, finally, hopeful. Solo performances and duos with saxophonist Ken Vandermark further make clear that Wooley’s vision can encompass full-blown melodies or zero in on pure sound and the different ways to execute it.
The concept behind stem flower root almost bears as much significance as the music itself. Composer Michael Pisaro-Liu received a commission from Wooley for the 2017 For/With Festival in Brooklyn. The 29-minute piece features Wooley’s trumpet in tandem with electronic sine waves, inspired by the structure of organic lifeforms. Along with the disc of music, the release includes a 25-page chapbook, in which Pisaro-Liu and Wooley speak in great detail about the composition and its origins. The written score also appears in the book.
That being said, the results sound, at first blush, like little more than a series of sustained notes blown with and without various mutes. They advance at a snail’s pace with hardly any harmonic movement. But once the structure is understood, or followed in the book, its beauty starts to emerge. The sine waves function somewhat like a droning organ, elevating the sound from mere pitches to a slow-blooming melody. Not very jazzy, but it might have a distant relative in Brian Eno’s hypnotic ambient works like Music for Airports, rich in simplicity. Finally, Wooley’s technique, holding one pitch without wavering for 13 seconds at a time, is impeccable—and riveting.