Few younger musicians at work in New York's jazz and improvised music scene have impressed me as consistently as reedist Anna Webber, a native of British Columbia who has demonstrated admirable artistic restlessness since moving to the city in 2008. In recent years she's delivered consistently bracing, rigorous work with an ever-expanding number of working ensembles deftly illuminated by shifting lineups, timbres, concepts, or structural conceits. Last fall she dropped Binary (Skirl), the second album by her Simple Trio—which is anything but simple—with percussionist John Hollenbeck and pianist Matt Mitchell.
The music Webber writes for the combo is dizzying and convoluted in the best ways, a jagged slalom of meticulously notated, interlocking patterns and riffs that demands pinpoint concentration on the part of the musicians and great focus and openness on the part of listeners. The pieces generate a hurtling tension, flying downhill with inexorable motion, but rarely in a direct line—the performances feel like a deftly choreographed simulacrum of a pinball game. For the pieces on the latest record Webber forced herself into uncomfortable situations where she couldn't fall back on familiar methods; among other things, she deployed computer programs to translate words into rhythmic patterns, or simply transcribed tones she found online into compositional kernels.
The breathlessly episodic "Impulse Purchase," for example, used a transliteration of her own IP address where the numbers were assigned specific pitches and also provided intervals for the piano voicings, generating furious sallies of tightly registered ensemble play and rhythmically punishing, off-kilter grooves for the leader to wend her grainy tenor saxophone improvisations across and through. A series of short numbered pieces called "Rectangles" were inspired by the sequences of high-pitched microtonal sounds that appear on the ten-second videos featured on the YouTube channel WebDriver Torso. Still, none of this would serve as much more than conceptual exercises without the locked-in performances delivered by the trio. Both Hollenbeck and Mitchell play the difficult patterns with seeming ease—a regular practice for these guys. Mitchell, in particular, is astonishing, and his work with saxophonist Tim Berne offers a simpatico analogue for Webber's endlessly shifting, tightly coiled compositions. Below you can listen to "Disintegratiate."