Anna Webber’s Percussive Mechanics

Refraction
Pirouet Records PIT 3079

By Ken Waxman

Audaciously extending her conceptual chops, composer Anna Webber has created a suite of sorts with Refraction, bookending the program with a prelude and postlude sonically coordinated but not copied, while those tracks and the other five subtly reflect motifs which swirl throughout. A British Columbian turned Brooklynite, Webber, who plays tenor saxophone and flute here, is joined on this journey by other musicians whose playing is neither overly percussive nor mechanical.

Interpreting the work in the form of parallel contributions, Webber’s sensitive arrangements balance duality. Her horns are matched by the alto saxophone and clarinet of James Wylie; pianist Elias Stemeseder and vibist Julius Heise are like two integers needed to create a sum; and so is the accord between percussionists Martin Kruemmling and Max Andrzejewski. Odd man out is bassist Igor Spallati, who except for dedicated arco slides on “Theodore”, produces pulses more commonly felt than heard.

Like the bicycle celebrated on “The All Pro 3 speed” Webber’s compositions careen from one genre to the next. On that tune her alto flute voiced alongside piano chords emphasize the drive’s steadiness. Just as it appears as if gears have locked into place, Wylie’s impassioned reed pressure ups the excitement quotient, contributing to a wilder ride. Reaching a climatic stopping point, intermittent drum beats keep the theme revolving until the end. Related refractions reflected on the CD include the near-goofy humor of “Tacos Wyoming”, with its Tex-Mex accordion-like sway, tick-tock clockwork drumming and dueling sax lines; as well as “Relentless”, whose quirky rhythmic grid below Webber’s solos on flute and tenor sax threaten to transform the line into a northern hemisphere Bossa Nova.

Seriousness isn’t neglected either, with “Theodore” as complex as any notated chamber piece. Concurrently deconstructed and sutured together like opposite motions reflected in an M.C. Escher print, the composition is set up by a marimba-vibes duel, with every player contributing improvisations from many angles, including reed squeaks, inner piano string strums and parallel harmonies between horns and keyboard. In the end, this multi-leveled theme is as emphatic as it is emotional. Embedded as part of Webber’s musical vision, it’s one more example of what makes her performances and writing sophisticated and satisfying.

—For MusicWorks #123 Fall 2015