Anna Webber, with John Hollenbeck and Matt Mitchell – Simple (2014)

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Anna Webber had already established a reputation as a saxophonist and flautist whose compositions reveal surprises and detail in its many folds. She did this leading a septet for her debut album Percussive Mechanics (2012), and now applies her principles to a much smaller setting for Simple, named so because she desired to also pare down her arrangements to meet to special requirements of her special trio.

It’s hard to tell that Simple (out September 16, 2014 via Skirl Records) is just that, simple, because most of its many charms lie in its complexities. She skillfully devised music that has nuances that take dozens of listens to unravel, possessing the carefully constructed drama of modern classical music and even wit. Her composition style is one of the closest anyone has gotten to the very idiosyncratic composing style of drummer and bandleader John Hollenbeck. And wouldn’t you know, Hollenbeck plays drums on this album, with Matt Mitchell (Tim Berne’s Snakeoil) on piano.

Which gets to the sorcery of Simple, performed by a bass-less trio that paradoxically makes music full, rich and stuffed full of intricacies. It certainly helps that Hollenbeck understands Webber’s abstruse language, and Mitchell’s close association with Berne means that he’s no stranger to mad genius composing, either.

“Carnophobia” is a treat to listen to, not just because Hollenbeck’s inventive percussion or Mitchell’s fractured patterns but also in the way the song modulates from one extreme to the other. And Webber’s tenor sax solo stays so in tune to what these two are doing, it’s almost misleading to call it a “solo.” If the individual strands performed here remind you of Morse Code, that’s no accident. Webber uses Morse as a source for “Washington” and “1994” as well.

“Emoticon” is fueled by a mechanical, highly syncopated tension that ultimately breaks down in a freeform release. “Simplify Simplify” was an unsuccessful attempt to do just that, but the mutating patterns took the song much further along that a straightforward melody would have.

A persistent pulse is maintained throughout the peaks and valleys of “I Don’t Want To Be Happy,” giving it an overall theme laid over its episodic construction. “Zigzag” is a hypnotically mutating ostinato, until it reaches a point of enough stasis where Webber can improvise along to it, sometimes handing off those duties to Mitchell.

“When one writes for a trio,” explains Webber, “everything’s exposed.” She laid bare her compositions, leaving it in a few, capable hands and in doing so, made them flourish.

Visit Anna Webber’s site for more info.

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