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Anna Webber: Simple

Dave Wayne By

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If things aren't just right, listening to complicated music can be like doing your taxes. There has to be chemistry, there has to be a narrative, and—even though you don't know what's coming next—the music's got to be on. The players have to be free to speak in a new language; often one divorced from the world of spang-a-lang and rhythm changes. This is the case on Anna Webber's new recording, Simple. Don't let the title fool you! Ms. Webber, a saxophonist, flutist and native of British Columbia, Canada, now residing in Brooklyn, is evidently quite blessed with a wry sense of humor. Webber's music, like Anthony Braxton's, is also informed by humor and a sense of the absurd, which makes it all the more inviting despite its cerebral character.

"Carnophobia" has a melody that initially sounds like random notes: as if someone dropped pebbles on a keyboard. Webber and pianist Matt Mitchell inject the requisite harmonic content into this pointillistic mass of craziness; but they do so gradually, letting the piece develop, keeping the listener on edge. Here, John Hollenbeck's phenomenal percussive play gives the tune an improbably loose and funky edge. "Emoticon" is an in-depth, yet light-hearted, exploration of dynamics, timbre, and repetition that really puts Hollenbeck to the test. Webber's lush flute sound and puckish humor come to the fore on the relentlessly propulsive "Simplify Simplify." You can sing along with the piece by simply uttering the song's title in a rhythmic fashion. "I Don't Want To Be Happy" is a dark and stormy tantrum that rides on the back of Mitchell's hellfire piano. Throughout these pieces there are free improv sections reminiscent of Hollenbeck's work with Satoko Fujii and Natsuki Tamura in the similarly-configured Junk Box trio.

This trio is equally adept at creating spacious, slowly unfolding soundscapes that tread a thin line between jazz balladry and contemporary classical music. Three of the album's seven pieces, "Zigzag," "1994," and "Washington" utilize space and long tones in a way that recalls some of Morton Feldman's compositions. "Washington" is the darkest and most dissonant of the three, though Webber throws in a rhapsodic, whisper-quiet flute solo just to keep you on your toes. "1994" coalesces into an angular jazz piece featuring Mitchell's probing improv. "Zigzag" is more gauzy and hazy, with subtle uncredited harmonium lurking in the background. The entirety of Simple is suffused with warm, human soulfulness, despite the devilish complexity of Webber's compositions.

Webber, Mitchell, and Hollenbeck perform this music with a rare delicacy, inviting the listener to lean in, closer, as they fuse modern jazz, free improvisation, and contemporary classical compositional techniques into a seamless whole. Simple is a beautifully varied and wonderfully executed work.

Track Listing

Carnophobia; Emoticon; 1994; Simplify Simplify; Washington; I Don't Want To Be Happy; Zigzag.

Personnel

Anna Weber: tenor saxophone, flute, alto flute; Matt Mitchell: piano, prepared piano; John Hollenbeck: drums, percussion, bells.

Album information

Title: Simple | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Skirl Records

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