The sixth installment in Nate Wooley’s seven-part cycle named for Thomas Merton’s autobiography is the most ambitious chapter yet and the weightiest. Begun in 2007 with just a trio, the project has gradually expanded in scope and personnel. This lineup features amplified trumpet and violins, pedal steel guitar and electric guitars, keyboards, three drummers, three vocalists, and a 21-woman choir.
This music cannot be categorized; though Wooley is an improvising trumpeter, it isn’t just jazz. He calls it “ecstatic music,” and that sounds about right. It’s highly textured, meticulously layered, a single track that starts simply and constructs a great crescendo over a quarter-hour. In creating this sweeping symphony, Wooley pulls from modern classical, liturgical music, ambient, and noise. Humming and droning intertwine with taped drum loops and gentle piano at the beginning. Minutes later, violins and furious electric guitars are battling with electronics and the sounds of unidentifiable machines. Halfway in, the work has grown thunderous, with warring drums, but the changes along the way have barely been perceptible. As the piece builds toward its glorious conclusion, the chorus repeatedly sings the first verse of Peggy Seeger’s anti-rape folk song “Reclaim the Night” before chanting “You can’t scare me, you can’t scare me” 14 times, louder with each pass. As it abruptly ends, it becomes clear that the performance is a protest against sexual violence.
Majestic and horrifying, Seven Storey Mountain VI can be compared to little in the jazz canon. Its closer antecedents include Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3, Ligeti’s Atmosphères, Pärt’s Miserere, Marek Zebrowski and David Lynch’s Polish Night Music, Last Exit, and even Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral. How in the world will Wooley outdo himself in part seven? An orchestra of gongs and glockenspiels? A 100-member chorus of chanting monks? Whatever it is, bring it on.