Is Idiom, from composer, saxophonist, and flutist Anna Webber, new classical music or jazz? Yes. Is the music scored or improvised? Again, yes. Last question: Is it demanding or easy on the ears? Both. On the heels of two stellar releases, the septet Clockwise (Pi Recordings, 2019) and the Webber/Morris Big Band recording Both Are True (Greenleaf Music, 2020), Webber was commissioned to present Idiom VI at John Zorn's Stone series. She expanded the material from one track heard on Clockwise for her 12-piece ensemble, the idea being to develop each piece based on an extended technique from her saxophone or flutes. Jazz improvisers have long applied and developed new sounds from multiphonics, alternate fingerings, clicks & pops, breath, and overblown notes. In the hallowed halls of education, these sounds might garner you a failing grade, but in Webber's hands all becomes euphonic.
Recorded for her 12-piece large ensemble, "Idiom VI" travels through six movements and includes four interludes. Under the conduction of Eric Wubbels, the ensemble navigates some complex new music passages dotted with intermittent improvised passages. The steadiness of "Movement I" is marked by jabs of sound over a swirling bees nest, before a stomping heavy bass line crashes into Liz Kosack's synthesizer electronics. Webber likes to match precision with the unpredictable; "Interlude 2 and Movement III" paints a pacific panorama before an advancing march is interwoven with Yuma Uesaka's contra-alto clarinet and Mariel Roberts' cello. Webber mixes the cinematic drama of "Movement IV" with the meditative passages of "Interlude 3 & Movement V" and the buzzing business of "Interlude 4 & Movement VI." The Large Ensemble pushes new classical music towards improvisation, and improvisations into chamber music.
Webber's Idiom music is also interpreted by her Simple Trio which includes pianist Matt Mitchell and drummer John Hollenbeck. This long-standing trio released Binary (Skirl Records, 2016) and might be the tightest group working today. Mitchell and Hollenbeck share Webber's penchant for the mechanical. In other words, they produce repetitive machine-like sounds on "Idiom I" that repeat with minute variations which increase the complexity until, well, the wheels come off. "Idiom V" and "Idiom III" play off a start/stop pulse with varying pitches. "III" is eventually brought to a proper boil, while "V" impersonates the inner workings of steampunk gadgetry. The ease with which the Simple Trio works through the complexity of Webber's compositions is both distinctive and quite extraordinary.
CD1: Idiom I; Idiom IV; Forgotten Best; Idiom V; Idiom III; CD2: Idiom VI: Movement I; Interlude 1;
Movement II; Interlude 2 and Movement III; Movement IV; Interlude 3 & Movement V; Interlude 4 &
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