Matt Ulery’s Woolgathering Records To Release Three Albums on October 16th
Matt Ulery: Sifting Stars
Russ Johnson: Headlands
Tim Haldeman: Open Water As A Child
Chicago, IL — Woolgathering Records, directed by bassist/composer, Matt Ulery, is an independent label and direct-to-artist web store committed to releasing new, original art music. The sounds from Woolgathering are deeply rooted in jazz, post-jazz, and modern chamber and orchestral music with a heavy focus on thoughtfully crafted composition and improvisation, often not afraid to be beautiful or serious. In this massive triple release, Woolgathering presents exciting new works (WR 005, 006, and 007) by Russ Johnson, Tim Haldeman, and Matt Ulery, with his largest scale work to date, Sifting Stars.
Due to be released are three masterworks: Ulery’s epic Sifting Stars, comprised of orchestral art songs; Headlands, by trumpeter and composer Russ Johnson and Open Water As A Child, by saxophonist Tim Haldeman, a prayer to the people of Flint, Michigan in light of their water crisis.
Sifting Stars, the eighth album from Matt Ulery, finds the prolific bassist in the company of a large ensemble, aptly named the Sifting Stars Studio Orchestra. Anchored by pianist Rob Clearfield, a significant voice in Ulery’s music over the past decade (and labelmate; his “Wherever You’re Starting From” was released on Woolgathering earlier this year), Sifting Stars is an art-song epic of long form song structures that is at once beautiful and haunting. Says Ulery of Sifting Stars:
“I tend to write emotionally. That is to say, when I reach in to the abstract space of musical possibilities, the tiny bit I can capture, I tend to let these transient melodies/rhythms and subsequent harmonies, increasingly familiar somehow, guide me through the most natural dynamic and flow of energy from event to event. These fragile moments, subtle and monumental, occupy long form song structures in Sifting Stars.
This music and lyrics are concerned with fantasy and redemption, and Ulery, in his own words, exploited every opportunity to coax the most lush and expressive motion. “While this collection of music is perhaps stylistically furthest away from my jazz informed roots than in previous work, with this classical instrumentation and atmosphere, brimming with romantic gestures, and it’s mostly through-composed nature, I feel that much of the harmonic and rhythmic palettes still reflects my relationship with jazz and new music through a certain rhythmic aesthetic, emotional intent, and vibe,” he says.
The opening piece, “The Remanent of Everything,” was originally commissioned and performed by the Brazos Valley Symphony Orchestra in 2017. Using this opportunity to his advantage, he created a series of more music- the orchestral art songs “Pictures in Grey,” “I’m So Shallow,” and “The Prairie is a Rolling Ocean.” The first two tracks, scored for full symphonic orchestra, include members of the Grammy-award winning ensemble Eighth Blackbird as well as singing by Grazyna Auguscik, one of Ulery’s long-time collaborators. For the following two, Ulery leaves out the strings, adds more brass to the orchestra and features singing by Katie Ernst (bassist/composer/vocalist of Twin Talk). Clearfield is featured here in his usual brilliance, especially on “The Prairie…” where he performs a particularly thoughtful and elegant improvised piano solo woven into the orchestration. The finale of Sifting Stars is “Ida,” a multi-movement work for brass quintet inspired by the Ivan Albright painting, Into the World There Came a Soul Called Ida, on view at the Art Institute in Chicago. “Ida” was originally commissioned and performed by Axiom Brass (also heard now on this recording) in 2017. “Brass is a deep breath. In this fantasy score, I imagined what Ida was thinking and feeling,” says Ulery, “The painting, extremely detailed and grotesque, inspired me to explore some of the emotions in the subject rather than to try and emulate the scrupulousness.”
In writing for these ensembles of established instrumentation, Ulery experimented with new idioms and sonic possibilities. “And as usual, I’m utilizing the album medium to produce this music for studio orchestra in Sifting Stars, attempting to put something beautiful and fanciful out into the world.”
To celebrate the release of Sifting Stars, Ulery will be performing at Chicago’s Green Mill on October 19th and 20th.
In 2015, Russ Johnson was commissioned to premiere a new band and set of compositions for the Hyde Park Jazz Festival in Chicago. The result is Headlands, a 12-movement suite he composed for a collection of Chicago’s finest musicians. Rob Clearfield is featured here once again on keyboards, as well as Matt Ulery, along with the renowned drummer Jon Deitemyer.
Headlands is a through composed work that is intended to be listened to in its entirety. The suite consists of six compositions connected by solo improvised passages by each member of the ensemble. A short theme serves as bookends to the proceedings. The music is designed to be structurally open/elastic to allow for maximum flexibility in live performance while still maintaining a strict overall from to give the work coherence. The Headlands suite is music that traverses the areas between modern jazz and the avant-garde and covers a wide range of compositional and improvisational styles.
“This is music that takes risks; the goal is not finding “perfection” within a performance, but to truly create the Suite ANEW with every new opportunity,” says Johnson. Captured live at the Hungry Brain in Chicago, this recording represents but one version of this concept.
Johnson moved to the Midwest in 2011 after spending more than two decades as an important member of the New York City musical community, where he established himself as a fearless improviser who is comfortable in many musical settings (jazz/improvised/classical). Since moving to the Chicago area, Johnson has continued to forge his path as a unique composer and improviser, and has created several projects and bands: Headlands is the most recent example.
The final Woolgathering release is Open Water As a Child, by saxophonist Tim Haldeman. The project was originally conceived as a one-off concert for the Ann Arbor Jazz Festival. Tim says of the work, “The concert was a love letter to our friends and neighbors in Flint, who’ve been enduring the tragic results of the total failure by those ‘in power’. I needed a way to express my anger and sadness, so I reached out to some friends. ‘Send it out,’ Neil Young once said. Everyone involved in Open Water embraced that spirit.”
The musical arrangements are loose, leaving space for the musicians to improvise. “Recently my favorite thing about playing music is to explore how a piece can grow unpredictably into something new. What I wrote was a launching pad for the musicians. I wanted to hear what everyone would do with it.” Chicago-based poet John Goode was invited to collaborate on the project and the resulting performance was a melodic firestorm of emotion.
Joining Haldeman is alto saxophonist Dan Bennett, trumpeter Justin Walter, and cellist Jordan Schug; they have all been performing together for many years, including new quintet recordings by both Schug and Bennett. Walter and Bennett are members of Colin Stetson’s ‘SORROW’ – a re-imagining of Gorecki’s 3rd symphony. Walter recently worked with Stetson scoring the film ‘Hereditary’, and his own records include ‘Unseen Forces’, ‘Lullabies & Nightmares’, ‘A Call to Arms’, and ‘Stars’.
Rounding out the ensemble is drummer Jonathan Taylor and bassist Ben Willis, who currently make up half of the rising group ‘Saajtak’. From Sonic Circuits (Washington, D.C.): “Saajtak live smelts its sonic influences into a maelstrom almost orchestral in nature and theatrical in its depth. John Goode is the author of the poetry collections, “Graduating from Eternity” and “Beauty and the Unrequited Landscape,” both available on Rain Mountain Press in NYC.
The cover art, by Devin Ulery, was inspired by a dream Haldeman had while working on the music.
Tim Haldeman currently lives in Ann Arbor, where he leads his own trio in addition to performing and recording with a variety of groups and musicians including Mike Reed’s People Places and Things, Greg Ward’s 10 Tongues, Matt Ulery, Will McEvoy, and Tim Flood among others.
Woolgathering Records was launched by Matt Ulery in late 2016 with the release of his major work Festival. Says Ulery on Woolgathering:
“Jazz musicians used to be foraged for by record labels. Now we’re the producers of our own music and records. I’ve had great working relationships with other jazz labels, especially Dave Douglas’s Greenleaf Music between 2012 and 2015. Having learned a lot about what independent labels can do for themselves and other artists, both creatively and logistically, and realizing that I’m just going to keep making records that may or may not fit stylistically in to one “label” or another, I decided to start my own, at least to put out my own new recorded work into the future. In February 2018, Woolgathering Records released our first non-Matt Ulery album, a beautiful solo piano work by Rob Clearfield. The success of that release encouraged me to help get out more music that I’m excited about. These three distinct new works show the scope of dynamic and beauty that Woolgathering is revealing.”