Award winning composer, saxophonist and flautist Anna Webber is a restless innovator and musical individualist. Her ninth release as a leader, the sublime and magnificent two-disc Idiom is an ambitious project which Webber pulls off brilliantly and with elegance. Five compositions from the "Idiom" series are represented here. Four are in a sparse trio setting while "Idiom VI," which fills the entire second disc, is with a large ensemble. Another one, "Idiom II," (not included here) appeared on Webber's Clockwise (Pi, 2019).
"Idiom I" opens with a tense ambience. Webber's circular flute refrains echo against her bandmates' angular vamps. Pianist Matt Mitchell alternates fast chiming notes with expectant resonant chords. At times, drummer John Hollenbeck drives the piece with his thundering beats and at others engages Webber in a thrillingly agile duet. All three musicians not only improvise in synergistic and expressive lines, but each also brings a stimulating new touch to their instrument.
In contrast "Forgotten Best" is more contemplative and serene, with an explorative meandering theme. Webber blows yearning saxophone phrases while Mitchell and Hollenbeck provide a percolating cadence. The collective sound is bittersweet and mellifluous, imbued with a soulful lyricism. Moving and provocative, the warm tune shimmers as it flows in a beautifully crystalline path.
Webber's captivating sonic experimentations mark the dramatic "Idiom III." Her fiery tenor saxophone burns through the melody as Mitchell lets loose an eerie cascade of keys. Hollenbeck's galloping polyrhythms take center stage in a passionate solo which Webber and Mitchell punctuate. This riotous repartee hauntingly concludes the first disc.
The multi-part "Idiom VI" features a 12-piece band and commences with an ominous quietude. The group interjects brief and jagged bursts into the interwoven tapestry of silence and electronic drone. This cinematic mood pervades the rest of the work. Drummer Satoshi Takeishi's crashes and booms alternate with urgent musical fragments from the various orchestral sections. A yearning cry from Webber's flute adds a level of angst before the band explodes into a thrillingly riotous repartee. At the core of this captivating performance is keyboardist Liz Kosack's eerie synthesizer.
Although there are many notable soloists on this dynamic opus this is not a "traditional" solo-bridge-solo work. At the beginning of "Movement IV" vilionist Erica Dicker bows out passionate dissonant lines in a call-and-response pattern with the group. Out of the hypnotic rumbling backdrop emerges a stimulating group extemporization that includes trombonist Jacob Garchik, cellist Mariel Roberts, bassist Nick Dunston and horn player David Byrd-Marrow. These visceral, simmering phrases are enveloped in multilayered harmonies and restless rhythms.
The dreamy "Interlude 3 and Movement V" has a mystical mood. Trumpeter Adam O'Farrill contributes contemplative burnished tones which match Webber's tenor saxophone musings in emotional depth. The bittersweet and lyrical dialogue between Webber and O'Farrill expands to include others, closing on an energetic note.
"Interlude 4 and Movement VI" is a tour de force of collective performance. The sonic waves, both melodic and dissonant, flow towards the poignant and ethereal conclusion. It is an apt and splendid finale for this near masterpiece. The ingenious Idiom is Webber's best to date, a standout in an otherwise uniformly superb discography. It is also one of the finest releases of 2021.
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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