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Webber / Morris Big Band: Both Are True

John Sharpe By

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On Both Are True Canadian composers and reed players Anna Webber and Angela Morris reimagine the language of the big band. They extend the tradition through adventurous arrangements spiced with the unpredictability of improv, by co-opting the nimbleness of a much smaller group, and reveling in non-standard techniques. Webber has already garnered plaudits for the work of her Simple Trio with Matt Mitchell and John Hollenbeck, while Morris' ventures such as the Motel Trio boast a lower profile so far. But together they jointly helm the 19-strong unit which is packed with some of the most exciting young talents in New York City.

Although initiated in 2015, this is the band's debut release, largely recorded live on the stage of Brooklyn's Roulette. It presents three numbers from the pens of each of the principals, along with three further joint credits. Webber's "Climbing On Mirrors" typifies the inventive charts. Nervy interlocking patterns open out for a skirling solo from alto saxophonist Charlotte Greve, who assuredly rides the bucking Morse coded layers before giving way to a wonderful closure. As the overlapping rhythms return, they are gradually replaced by the voices of the ensemble, even as drummer Jeff Davis churns, until at the end there is only a soothing vocal chorale. It's a stunning effect.

Vocals also feature on her "Reverses," but this time in the guise of overlain recitations of a Maya Angelou text at the conclusion of the piece. Such novel textures and wealth of detail are a commonplace throughout. Drawing on the same inspiration which informed her acclaimed Clockwise (Pi, 2019) album, Webber based the pithy "Rebonds" on a work of the same name for solo percussion by the Greek composer Iannis Xenakis. The introduction evokes a tape played backwards, as the drawn out lead-in to each beat is terminated with no decay, then builds into a halting meter through which brass and reed percolation, while guitarist Dustin Carlson shreds and chops.

While Webber's tunes frequently incorporate such idiosyncratic rhythmic units, generally speaking Morris' pieces tend to expand into more impressionistic improvisatory territories, like the murmuring reeds which spring board Webber's brawny fraying tenor outbreak on the title track, and the annunciatory blocks of sound which frame "Coral," which showcases trumpeter Adam O'Farrill's plaintive yelps and muffled groans prior to the onset of a lurching momentum. The collaborative "Foggy Valley" combines both traits, unfolding with Morris' breathy sighs and multiphonic whimpers over suitably murky horn punctuations, which contain echoes of "Rebonds" in their cadence.

Two duets spotlight the saxophones of both leaders intertwining conversationally on "Duo 1," braided first in close harmony, then dissonance on "Duo 2." Interestingly in mixing they've made the decision to keep the recording levels the same no matter whether it's a duet or the whole outfit. As a result of that lack of compression, you get to appreciate the full power of the band when it comes in. With the abundance of ideas and flair on show this constitutes one of the debut's of the year. And there's obviously much more to look forward to in the future under this shared leadership. Yes please!

Track Listing

Climbing On Mirrors; Duo 1; Both Are True; Rebonds; Coral; And It Rolled Right Down; Foggy Valley; Duo 2; Reverses.

Personnel

Anna Webber: saxophone, tenor; Angela Morris: saxophone, tenor; Jay Rattman: saxophone; Charlotte Greve: saxophone, alto; Adam Schneit: saxophone, tenor; Lisa Parrott: saxophone, baritone; John Lake: trumpet; Jake Henry: trumpet; Adam O'Farrill: trumpet; Kenny Warren: trumpet; Tim Vaughn: trombone; Nick Grinder: trombone; Reginald Chapman: trombone; Jen Baker: trombone; Patricia Brennan: vibraphone; Dustin Carlson: guitar; Adam Hopkins: bass; Marc Hannaford: piano; Jeff Davis: drums.

Album information

Title: Both Are True | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Greenleaf Music

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