Anna Webber

Idiom
Pi Recordings 89

Designed to show off tenor saxophonist/flutist Anna Webber’s skills as composer and player are the idioms developed on each disc of this two-CD set. Without knowing their genesis in extended woodwind techniques, the five idioms expressed can be appreciated as appropriately moving Jazz and improvised music. That’s partially a testament to what the British Colombia-born Brooklyn-based musician’s conceptions and also because the interpretations involve some of the east coast’s most accomplished players.

Together for the past eight years, the Simple Trio with pianist Matt Mitchell and drummer John Hollenbeck treats Disc One’s five selections as a chamber suite. Portioned among the three the layered textures use each instrument’s extended boundaries, whether it’s darkened pressure or lightly sprinkled keyboard touches; thumping power or gentle sizzles from the drums; or singular peeps or concentrated snarls from Webber’s horns. Interesting enough it’s “Forgotten Best”, the non-idiom-titled sequence that stands out. A mini-suite in itself, it gradually opens up as saxophone spliffs and keyboard clips move from delicacy to intensity. Then crackling percussion kicks in. From that point on the exposition alternates between power and passivity allowing Mitchell to stretch out with arpeggios yet having Webber recap the head at the end. As for the four “Idiom” variations, rubato sections and broken line sequences appropriately bolster Webber’s experiments, whether it’s reed overblowing, sour textures or extended aerophonic timbres that make it appear she’s blowing two flutes at once. Drum ruffs and rumbles and piano slaps and patterns suitably integrate even when Webber swirls out unexpected vibrations. Integration is highlighted on the concluding “Idiom III” where foghorn-like reed snores unite with advanced drum rhythms and piano clanks to push the theme in an ambulatory fashion, despite detours into staccato clips, saxophone honks and cymbal splashes. At the turnaround the exposition settles into tone affiliation based on floating saxophone stutters.

Disc Two is a different proposition. Still supposedly dealing with extended reed techniques, the six movements and four interludes are orchestrated for a 12-piece ensemble, which has Satoshi Takeishi on drums, Liz Kosack’s synthesizer in place of other keyboards, two additional woodwinds, three brass, and four string players.

Slippery, accelerated and growly, the composition initially surges in sinuous motion where the synth’s guitar-like flanges complement saxophone trills and string stretches. Gaining intensity with multiple textures expressed through slowly exhaling brass harmonies, the piece attains its first climax with “Movement II”. Here Nick Dunston’s double bass beat and flute trills face a brass trio playing almost classically precise tones. What appears to be an academic march from trombonist Jacob Garchik soon starts to swing prodded by double bass pulsations and drum slams. All this leads to “Interlude 2 & Movement III”, the longest and most sympathetic track. Starting with a crepuscule interlude characterized by string shakes and Arcadian French horn warbles from David Byrd-Marrow, the entire band soon begins playing stop-time. High-pitched variables are interspaced with sharp string twists from cellist Mariel Roberts and a crescendo of brassy shouts is followed by a coda of jagged rhythmic string sweeps. Solo-tutti alternations continue throughout the remainder of the compositions. Concentrated atmospheric sequences characterized by reed- and brass-section vamps and sul ponticello string-section sweeps give way to designated solos which include Webber’s jack-in-the box tenor saxophone japes, meandering puffs from Webber’s bass flute, string stropping from violinist Erica Dicker and finally trumpeter Adam O’Farril’s high-pitched flutters. Returning to smoky and wispy timbres in the concluding “Interlude 4 & Movement VI”, the subsequent threatening mood based on pizzicato string yanks and jittery horn vibrations, builds up to a final crescendo of cross-timbral echoes from the entire band and diminishes into a final section of blurry reed buzzes.

Sufficient to mark Webber’s skills as small group improviser and large ensemble composer/arranger, Idiom gives her the chance to experience both talents in the same package.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Disc One: Simple Trio: 1. Idiom I 2. Idiom IV 3. Forgotten Best 4. Idiom V 5. Idiom III Disc Two: Large Ensemble 1. Idiom VI 2. Movement I 2. Interlude 1 3. Movement II 4. Interlude 2 & Movement III 5. Movement IV 6. Interlude 3 & Movement V 7. Interlude 4 & Movement VI

Personnel: Disc One: Anna Webber (tenor saxophone, flute); Matt Mitchell (piano); John Hollenbeck (drums) Disc Two: Adam O’Farrill (trumpet); Jacob Garchik (trombone); David Byrd-Marrow (French horn); Nathaniel Morgan (alto saxophone); Webber (tenor saxophone, flute, bass flute); Yuma Uesaka (tenor saxophone, clarinet, contraalto clarinet); Erica Dicker (violin); Joanna Mattrey (viola); Mariel Roberts (cello); Liz Kosack (synthesizer); Nick Dunston (bass); Satoshi Takeishi (drums); Eric Wubbels (conductor)