PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Nate Wooley Explores a Frozen Interior on 'Columbia Icefield'

Photo: Chris Weiss / Northern Spy

Jazz trumpeter Nate Wooley's quartet tackles a big landscape, a big reaction, and a big chill on the complex and patient new album, Columbia Icefield.

Columbia Icefield
Nate Wooley

Northern Spy

22 February 2019

Trumpeter/composer Nate Wooley takes a "Romantic" approach to his latest album, Columbia Icefield. An encounter with the title structure, a massive icefield in the Rocky Mountains, provokes an experience of the sublime, of awe in something natural we're unable to appreciate fully. The idea of the Columbia Icefield takes on the resonance here, perhaps more than the thing itself, in Wooley's search for expressing something large and intensely other. His work on these three pieces works to map a psychic landscape inspired by a natural one, and he achieves that goal with something icier than simple cool.

The three musicians who join him make sense. Electric guitarist Mary Halvorson, pedal steel guitarist Susan Alcorn, and drummer Ryan Sawyer don't show any more interest in using their instruments in normal ways than Wooley does. Halvorson and Alcorn previously figured out how to blend their approaches in Halvorson's octet for Away With You (2016), though Wooley calls them to much spacier work here. Sawyer avoids straightforward playing for the textured moraines that help define patient movement.

Wooley stares at something old and chilly. He names his first piece "Lionel Trilling". The tracklisting might surprise, but it suggests a web of ideas that fit. Wooley comes more from Wordsworth's mind than a proper realist's here, with his investment in the imaginative and emotional side of an experience that's both physical and not. The piece itself slowly assembles its parts, the guitars steadily building a dark and anxious atmosphere. Wooley scrapes some odd sounds out of his trumpet before properly arriving much later than expected (since it was hard to see him there all along). Only a third of the way through the 20-minute track does his horn become recognizable, blowing snow in a truly eerie place.

"Seven in the Woods" offers a more normal approach, Wooley conversing with Sawyer's rolls and hits until the guitarists enter, functioning more like as organ in tone and arrangement, presumably thanks to Alcorn's unflagging ability find new uses for pedal steel. The track's length offers something of a glacial expanse, and the shift from Wooley to Alcorn as the primary sound helps it develop, but it stands as an oddity, never quiet ambient or minimalist, and never quite a trek or a melodic statement. Wooley and his ensemble have found a way to convey a cold openness aurally an unobtrusively. The sound speaks to each of the musicians being willing to restrain themselves for the sake of the larger vision, controlling tone and space while letting the piece gradually unfold.

The final track, "With Condolences" uses the funereal attitude to describe an interior emptiness. Wooley's composition makes the transition from his experience of the icefield to a mental bleakness. This track offers the clearest sense of direction even while exploring the largest breadth of silence. Eventually, the group can't control itself, and it gets noisy. Bleak spoken word intersects with the horn, the scattered drums, and a guitar that references the opening of the album. By the time the group finishes, they've effectively circumscribed a literal and imaginary icefield, even while keeping the sides open enough for further geomorphology (inside or out).


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror, Vol. 1'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.


Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.


Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.


Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.