As its title suggests, this album is the penultimate part of the monumental seven-part project Seven Storey Mountain by trumpeter and composer Nate Wooley, begun in September 2007 when Wooley, on trumpet and tape, was recorded live at a NYC art center, in a trio with Paul Lytton on percussion and David Grubbs on harmonium. The project then added an instalment roughly every two years, with the fifth part recorded in May 2015 and released in 2016. After a four-year wait, the release of part six on Pyroclastic Records (the third label to take the baton following two parts released on Important Records and then three parts, two as a double CD, on Pleasure of the Text Records) more than gets things back on track.
If that all makes the project sound rather disjointed, the albums' artwork across the first six parts — monochrome graphics, reminiscent of Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures — has been consistent, giving the series a clear identity. Just as important to the continuity and identity of the series has been Wooley's use of recorded samples from the preceding parts which have meant that familiar sounds reappear throughout the series; for example, parts four, five and six all included versions of the so-called 'Lytton loop' in their extremely full soundscapes. Each part has been distinguished by the introduction of sounds not used in earlier parts, for example vibraphones in part three and a brass sextet in part four. In the case of part six, it includes a female vocal ensemble for the first time.
Each of the previous parts has been recorded live in NYC. Although the current one was premiered at a live performance in NYC on November 23 2019, the album was actually studio-recorded the following day, meaning that it does not feature the enthusiastic applause heard at the end of parts four and five. Another distinguishing feature is that part six is the very first to include music from works by composers other than Wooley, most notably Peggy Seeger's feminist anthem "Reclaim the Night", a point emphasised by its lyrics being printed in red across the album's front cover, thus relegating those trademark monochrome graphics to the back and insides. In fact, the recording opens to the sound of the vocalists humming the song's haunting theme, thus creating an atmosphere the like of which has not been heard before in the work. From there, the music slowly morphs into more familiar territory, with a complex soundscape being constructed layer by layer, some taped, some played. Gradually, the vocalists re-emerge, slowly taking over again, at first wordlessly but eventually singing the powerful words of Seeger's song and, ultimately, repeating the phrase "You Can't Scare Me" through to the end. One can only imagine the ovation we would have heard had this been a live recording...
Those who have heard and enjoyed earlier parts of Seven Storey Mountain will find plenty here that they recognise and enjoy. Those who have heard no earlier parts can easily begin here as this disc can stand alone and be appreciated in its own right; however, newcomers may well find themselves backtracking to seek out earlier parts. Either way, anyone hearing this recording will surely be anticipating the concluding part of the work. The only question in those listeners' minds will surely be, "How can you top this one?"
Comments and Feedback: