SEVEN STOREY MOUNTAIN V AT A'LARME BERLIN!
On August 3rd, Nate Wooley led the very first multi-continent version of his epic song-cycle Seven Storey Mountain at the fifth annual A'larme Festival in Berlin. In front of a packed house the group, featuring musicians from the US, Europe, and Australia, made the large theater at Radialsystem V vibrate with a concerted energy toward ecstaticism. The concert, made possible by the American Embassy in Germany, was a resounding success and one of the most profound musical moments of Wooley's career so far.
(from Martin Schray's Free Jazz Collective Review)
Finally, one of the highlights and maybe the most-anticipated project of the whole festival closed the day: Nate Wooley's Seven Storey Mountain, a concept to continue Wooley’s idea that creating collective music cannot be linked with a particular genre (that’s why it was an obvious choice for the festival makers). The huge supergroup included American and European musicians
So, the expectations were high and to cut a long story short: the band even surpassed them. The composition was were tightly structured, the horns started and ended the set with fanfares that sounded like the band in the Roman Circus Maximus. Then the piece was built up bit by bit, first with a wall of sound by the vibraphones and the trumpet, then the violins came in and the piece had the drama of a Gorecki symphony. But that wasn’t enough tension, the orchestra created a real vortex of classical fragments, sound collages and explorations and free improv, fiercely pushed by the two drummers. Wooley was steering the ship like a first mate giving orders to his crew. At the peak of the show the atmosphere was so tight, it was hard to endure. The composition ended like it began, with fanfares and minimal vibraphone notes, the light show emphatically dimmed the lights.
So far the best show in 2017. A perfect ending to a great festival day.
The Seven Storey Mountain Ensemble played its first international concert in Victoriaville on May, 20, 2017. Exclaim Magazine called it "...a great massive pile of squall — totally exhilarating." Pictures of the performance above were taken by Martin Morissette. Many thanks to FIMAV and all the musicians for this deep and moving experience.
This engagement was supported by Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation through USArtists International in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Howard Gilman Foundation. Exclaim
It's a term coined by Nate Wooley for the hoped achievements of his seven part song cycle for large ensemble, Seven Storey Mountain. Although named after Thomas Merton's self-referential religious tract, the project, now approaching its ten year anniversary has only an oblique connection to any sense of religious or mystical ephemera. Instead, the SSM compositions work to create a sense of ecstatic joy and emotional release that is purely human; made by people for people.
Now finishing its fifth iteration, the Seven Storey Mountain family consists of almost thirty different musicians from the jazz, new music, noise, and rock communities including Colin Stetson, C. Spencer Yeh, Chris Corsano, David Grubbs, Ben Vida, TILT Brass Ensemble and others. The current version, SSMV is performed by 18 people and has been referred to by reviewers as a modern form of Bruckner or Mahler's imposing grandeur.
SSM began as a commission by Dave Douglas's FONT organization. The first piece was performed by a trio of Paul Lytton, David Grubbs, and Nate Wooley along with tape accompaniment. Each successive version of the piece has been transformative; both with the tape and the orchestration. As mentioned above, SSMV consists of 18 members and the projected forces for SSMVI (which will premiere in 2018) counts almost at 40.
Originally meant only to be performed once per version, the demand has been high enough that secondary performances have been made on the occasion of Phillip Glass's birthday in Brooklyn, Winter Jazz Fest in NYC, FIMAV in Quebec, and the first European version at A'larme Festival in Berlin.
Exclaim Magazine in Canada said this about the ensemble's recent performance at the Victoriaville Festival in Quebec:
The first two versions of "Seven Storey Mountain" by Brooklyn-based trumpeter, Nate Wooley, (which retains the
same basic structure, but gets larger every year,) were trio works. The third and fourth featured a nine-piece band, plus the TILT Brass Octet. The latest version, which Wooley presented last night (May 20), upped the band to 11 pieces, kept TILT on hand and added a narrator.I'm uncertain where the narrator's text originated (perhaps in the Thomas Merton book after which the piece is named?), but it set a reflective mood into which TILT began playing figures that kept making me think of Mingus's late '50s
arrangements. From there, the piece took its traditional path —Wooley's breath attacks led into vibraphone notes, and the instruments slowly piled on from there until there was a fevered blare of improvisational ecstasy tearing through the auditorium. It was just a great massive pile of squall —totally exhilarating.
There's a logic to the piece, and a very specific order to when and how each instrument enters and leaves the fray. This particular ensemble —twinned drums and vibraphones, cello, electronics, contrabass clarinet, baritone sax, tuba and trumpet —was large
enough to get the job done. But one can't help but wonder how big Wooley's next ensemble to tackle the piece will be. I can't wait
to find out.
Listen to excerpts from Seven Storey Mountain V, released on Pleasure of the Text Records.
Seven Storey Mountain I and II were released by Important Records and remain in print.
Seven Storey Mountain III & IV were released as a deluxe double disc set on Pleasure of the Text Records and was followed by Seven Storey Mountain V in 2016.
Each disc has art by The Wyvern that progressively changes along with the pieces.
Nate Wooley is in the process of writing Seven Storey Mountain VI, using some of the compositional elements that found their way into the recent performances in Victoriaville and Berlin. Wooley is currently working on building an even larger and radically different ensemble for SSMVI and is in the process of finding a presenting organization to partner with, as well as funding opportunities for the continuation of his epic cycle.