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Nate Wooley / Fred Lonberg-Holm / Jason Roebke - Throw Down Your Hammer and Sing

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Artist: Nate Wooley / Fred Lonberg-Holm / Jason Roebke

Album: Throw Down Your Hammer and Sing

Label: Porter

Review date: Mar. 26, 2009

In these days of post-everything mixtures of allusion and accidental reference, a real surprise is always welcome. The opening gesture on Throw Down Your Hammer and Sing affords such a moment. It’s a long, multi-registral downward sweep from trumpeter Nate Wooley, and it ushers in five strong group improvisations that blend experience with vitality and a refreshing sense of discovery.

The instrumentation itself is novel, as Wooley is joined by cellist/electronics wizard Fred Londberg-Holm and bassist Jason Roebke. Reference is certainly one component of the trio’s shtick, as can be heard in the long-toned wavering gravel of “Sans Aluminumius,” where AMM’s innovative 1960s work certainly informs each ghost-tone and half-filled space. Here, the group sounds bigger than it is, thanks to tasteful electronics and strident but introspective drone. Yet, acoustic passages have an almost musique concrete feel to them, as can be heard in “Southern Ends of the Earth,” where (I’d assume) non-existent jump-cut edits are effected purposely and dynamic control affords the illusion of sounds emerging backward.

All that being said, sound and its referential manipulation is only one area in which these three improvisers excel. Pitch is handled throughout with delicacy and extreme care. Londberg-Holm and Wooley engage in gorgeously rapt multi-toned stillness in “Southern Ends,” as crunchy dissonances take on a raw beauty. In these moments, Roebke often provides tiny gestures of rhythmic intrigue, bowing brief harmonics, sometimes in an altogether different register, filling the sound almost to a quiet breaking point

One of the most riveting aspects of the date is the amount of space and near-silence throughout. The opening minutes of “St. Mary” exemplify the aesthetic with clarity, taking place largely in higher registers but rarely rising above piano. On one level, such timbral control should be expected, given Wooley’s apprenticeship with master musician Jack Wright some years back, but the sheer range of timbre, dynamic contrast and pitch variation these musicians pack into every moment is rare indeed. “Anywhere, Anyplace At All” sums up the trio’s accomplishments, combining hugely diverse pitched material with an equally exploratory sonic palette, all replete with space in which to reflect on each event.

A word or two is in order about Woolley’s approach to his instrument. While the spatial innovations of Bill Dixon and Wadada Leo Smith are certainly referenced, the humor of Lester Bowie is also in evidence, and I even hear the chronologically disparate but equally luscious tones of Tony Friscella and Arve Henrikson on occasion. An extraordinary listen.

By Marc Medwin

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