seven storey mountain

Ecstatic Song Cycle



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.