Anna Webber: Idiom (Pi Recordings, 2021)

June 14, 2021 at 7:59 pm | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Anna Webber: Idiom

Anna Webber’s jaw-dropping double CD Idiom showcases her different approaches to improvisation and composition, in an attempt to bring the two together. The first disc, recorded at New Haven’s infamously intimate Firehouse 12, is performed by a “simple trio” consisting of Webber on tenor saxophone and flure, pianist Matt Mitchell, and drummer John Hollenbeck, while the Brooklyn-recorded second disc contains “large ensemble” pieces by a different group of musicians, conducted by Eric Wubbels. Most of the album consists of numerically titled “Idiom” pieces, which focus on a specific woodwind extended technique, which Webber explains are based on natural sounds the instruments make rather than anything out of its league. I listened to the entire album without reading the notes first, and for all of its hour and 45 minutes, I just kept wondering how these musicians were keeping everything in sync. “Idiom I” is filled with lots of short, repetitive phrases that gradually twist in a minimalist way, later building up to more of a chaotic climax at the end. “Idiom IV” begins with sparse pianos, but an ultra-precise drum solo appears midway, and then the trio launches into an ultra-knotty rhythm which still somehow kind of grooves. “Forgotten Best”, the album’s one non-“Idiom” piece, seems more melodic and I guess jazzier than the others, with Webber playing saxophone rather than flute, although the rhythms are still a bit tricky. “Idiom V” seems to flail around and repeatedly run into a wall, never really taking off or hitting a stride, but “Idiom III” is a much more engaging exploration of stop-start rhythms and bewildering saxophone patterns. The “large ensemble” disc is taken up by the hour-long “Idiom VI”, which consists of six movements and four interludes, with over a dozen solos total. The interludes are generally slow-motion glacial drones, but the movements are wild, multi-limbed creatures moving in several directions. The full arrangements feature multiple horns, woodwinds, strings, drums, and synthesizer, and the sound is monstrous when it needs to be, coming alive when the volume is turned up, but also miniscule and honed-in at times (mostly the interludes). “Movement IV” is a bit eerie due to its screeching violins and horror effects synth. The final “Movement VI” ends with a giant pile-up which basically sounds like a musical food fight involving the entire ensemble.

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