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Review: New Works Designed With a Daring Trumpeter in Mind

Category: Entertainment,Music

The composer and trumpeter Nate Wooley’s taste in experimental music is wide-ranging. He likes brash fields of finely textured noise, as well as contemplative pieces generously dotted with silence. He has played jazz. He has played classical. And he particularly relishes the zone where no one is sorting music into any categories at all.

He’s also a devoted citizen of the artistic ecosystem, organizing a database of recorded American music, running a record label, editing an online journal about avant-garde sounds — and conceiving For/With, a mini-festival that had its second annual run at Issue Project Room in Brooklyn on Wednesday and Thursday.

There’s consistency in Mr. Wooley’s commitments: The inaugural festival last year included works by Christian Wolff, Michael Pisaro, Ashley Fure and Annea Lockwood; this year, there were more pieces by Ms. Fure and Ms. Lockwood, designed with Mr. Wooley in mind. Anyone who attended the New York Philharmonic’s opening this season could have identified elements from “Filament,” which Jaap van Zweden conducted on that program, in “A Library on Lightning” at Issue Project Room.

Mr. Wooley was a guest soloist in the Philharmonic’s Fure performances, along with the bassoonist Rebekah Heller and the bassist Brandon Lopez. That was the same trio for “A Library on Lightning” on Thursday. (Ms. Heller also performed Felipe Lara’s vivid “Metafagote” that evening, playing through its lead part over six prerecorded tracks.)

“A Library” is no simple reduction of “Filament,” as the trio actually had its premiere first, in April this year. At Issue Project Room, without the orchestra or the whispery, roving chorus heard at David Geffen Hall, it was easier to appreciate some of Mr. Lopez’s delicate, near-the-bridge playing. The intimacy of the Brooklyn space didn’t sap any of Ms. Fure’s intensity, either: The final buzzing chords hit with extraordinary force.

Ms. Lockwood’s music was heard on both evenings. Her 1998 piece “Immersion” was performed on Wednesday by the percussion duo of Frank Cassara and Dominic Donato. The work’s most compelling stretches were achieved by Ms. Lockwood’s use of a cylindrical container placed atop a marimba. One musician drew a mallet around the cylinder’s circumference, while the other gently thrummed the edges of the bars underneath, producing slight, dreamy dissonances.

On Thursday, Ms. Lockwood’s recent piece “Becoming Air” was played by Mr. Wooley, using his extended technique on trumpet to create, as in “Immersion,” a mood of elegant energy. While using circular breathing to produce long tones on his instrument, he also manipulated a small microphone inside the bell, as well as an effect pedal at his feet. As the microphone moved farther inside the trumpet, the amplified overtones shifted incrementally, producing some dramatic howls of distortion. Ms. Lockwood also made full use of Mr. Wooley’s quieter strategies, like the mouthpiece-free blowings he sometimes uses, blasts of frenzy that remain soft. (The sound is suggestive of a sprinkler system that’s gained consciousness.)

Mr. Wooley’s interpretive powers were brought into even clearer focus by “Red Autumn Gold,” a work written by the trumpet virtuoso (and 2013 Pulitzer Prize finalist) Wadada Leo Smith and played twice during For/With. Mr. Wooley’s solo rendition opened the festival on Wednesday. Using polyphonic extended techniques, he made multiple droning lines drift apart and then return to states of equilibrium. Pauses in the music brought shifts toward brief flurries of notes that sounded like descendants of bebop phrasing.

At the end of the festival, Mr. Smith appeared with Mr. Wooley for another take on the piece, in which Mr. Wooley often ceded the foreground. (A startling opening note from Mr. Smith showed that his clarion ferocity is still in enviable shape.) Yet it was still very much a duet. Over a quarter-hour, a fine balance emerged between Mr. Smith’s brightly pealing sound and the mellower roughness of Mr. Wooley.


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