Born in British Columbia, trained at McGill University, and living in New York since 2008, flutist, saxophonist, and composer Anna Webber is one of the most critically acclaimed forces in new music today. This latest double CD release reveals that her musical language easily matches her past Guggenheim and Downbeat award-winning work.
On the first disc, Idioms I, III, IV and V are performed by the stellar trio of Webber, pianist Matt Mitchell, and drummer John Hollenbeck. The second disc contains Idiom VI, a six-movement extended suite with interludes separating most movements, performed by a duodecet including six winds, three strings, synthesizer, double bass, and drums. (The “missing” Idiom II was previously released on Webber’s Clockwise in 2019.) Each Idiom is conceptually based around a single extended woodwind technique, the strength of the compositions ensures that theory does not distract from the music. Idiom I starts with short, repetitive, Steve Reich-like motifs that slowly morph into a central piano section reminiscent of Nancarrow’s piano roll music, while the drums click away with odd but groovy beats. Idiom IV begins with a romantic piano solo before veering into a heavily syncopated romp.
The hour-long Idiom VI makes maximal use of the twelve voices to derive a delightfully different brew, each movement tending to focus on a different soloist. Movement I mixes the insane with the rational, with individual threads bursting with crazed melodies, especially from an extended trombone solo, all tied into a unified punchy whole. Similarly, Movement III features a bass clarinet solo, and Movement IV the violin.
The music is consistently melodic and playful yet avant-garde—as much new-classical music as it is jazz. As in a time-lapse video of a rose blooming, there is a constant flow of unfolding beauty. While her music occasionally conjures composers such as Reich, Nancarrow, and Anthony Braxton, Webber has assimilated this wealth from the past and seamlessly integrated it into a tour-de-force of her own.