It took two days and four listens to decide how my ears receive The Almond, a record for superimposed trumpet loops and voice that – over the course of 72 minutes, expanding a first version that lasted just 20 – could make an unfocused appraiser believe that “it sounds like” (insert name here). In truth, this is an album that does not ask for a mere “verdict”: it is better appreciated for what it is, that is to say an experiment. Successful or not, that mostly depends on the listener’s attitude.
Ever since the very beginning one realizes that the instrument has been played in different environments and with assorted manual devices (mutes for sure, and perhaps also some of the thin metal sheets used by Wooley in his solitary performances). The slight buzzing of certain pitches instantly erases any tendency to smoothness as far as the timbre is concerned. The piece’s gravity is maintained through a ceaseless succession of looping figurations of varying extent which, in their unfolding, show a rather ample gamut of shifting groupings – from consonant to clustery – that, working together, give the music a temperament of mildly perturbed quietness.
The trumpet was not processed, but quite often the mind fabricates suggestions of strings and female voices amidst the sonic accumulation. On the other hand, the recurrent appearance of an unhurried subsonic rub – sort of a low-frequency seesaw – balances the predisposition to acute stridency that many of the sections reveal. Most combinations are interesting, but the sense of awe-inspiring vibration that we experience when listening to Phill Niblock (I’m quoting an immediate and indeed not really valuable comparison read elsewhere) is not the same. The upper partials herein are less intimidating, not really inclined to fight if you get my point.
Anyhow, Wooley’s seriousness is indisputable, and his attempt to tackle long-distance minimalism is valid on that basis. Placing The Almond among the finest examples in the genre would be an overstatement, however it remains a CD that lends itself to frequent spins, stimulating the nerves in a way or another.