Anna Webber Septet at Jazz Gallery 1/18/18 (by Kevin Sun)

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PERSONNEL: Anna Webber (tenor saxophone, flute, alto flute, bass flute), Jeremy Viner (tenor saxophone, clarinet), Jacob Garchik (trombone), Chris Hoffman (cello), Matt Mitchell (piano), Chris Tordini (bass), Ches Smith (drums)

SET LIST: Korē II, Interlude 1, Loper, Interlude 3, 4, Interlude 2, Interlude 4, 1, Array, Interlude 5, Clockwise, b–>a, Korē I (all by Webber)

HIGHLIGHTS: Amid a brief, quiet respite of bass flute, vibes, and bass after a period of sustained noise, trombonist Jacob Garchik’s mute comes loose from his instrument and clatters on the wooden stage—a spontaneous moment that somehow felt perfectly appropriate.

Premiering a collection of new works composed during a residency in New Hampshire,  Anna Webber led a septet through a program of action-packed episodes. The ensemble generates motion with collective efficiently; foreground becomes background and vice versa, with strategic trading of roles and parts between instruments. Prominently featured in several of these were fragmented, interlocking rhythms distributed in clusters of pitches across instruments—a cryptic Morse code that would materialize again in different formats and contexts.

Webber’s compositions narratively sequence transformations and mutations of defined material, such as a rhythmic cell or a melodic fragment. The way these changes unfold come off as somehow both unpredictable and retrospectively inevitable, which is a testament to Webber’s attention to both momentary details and to the overarching compositional architecture. On “Loper,” a repeated snare figure in the drums laid the setting for a seemingly endless march of chords, played one to a beat at a walking pace. As tension built across the sequence of shifting harmonic colors, the emergent setting revealed itself to be a tenor feature for Viner, who burst out of the ensemble texture with sweeping masses of pitches; this provided both a dramatic focal point and a formal counterweight to the orderly succession of harmony emanating from the rest of the band.

Longer works like “Loper” were punctuated with a series of interludes that thrust the band into situational experiments with timbre, duration, and attack. In one, a seemingly endless upward creep in the cello and clarinet incited anxiety in the background as Jacob Garchik ripped loud, insistent glissandos in the foreground.  “Interlude 4” started off with an infernal quarter-tone saxophone duet that suggested massive bees buzzing through an amplifier. Soon the rest of the band began filling in the spaces with unison hits, which increased in frequency until blossoming into a spacious cello solo that saw the two tenors finally in repose, a brief calm before the final reprise.

Disciplined music sometimes ends up sounding airless and dull, but this exhilarating performance proved that exacting parts can actually generate freedom of expression.

by Kevin Sun