Label: Pi Recordings, 2019
Personnel - Anna Webber: tenor saxophone, flutes; Jeremy Viner: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Jacob Garchik: trombone; Christopher Hoffman: cello; Matt Mitchell: piano; Chris Tordini: bass; Ches Smith: drums, vibraphone, timpani.
Tenorist/flutist/composer Anna Webber is a compelling exponent of the avant-jazz panorama who has been leading interesting projects such as Percussive Mechanics and Simple Trio. Her most ambitious project to date, Clockwise, marks her debut on Pi Recordings and homages some of her favorite 20th century composers like Iannis Xenakis, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and John Cage. Here, she spearheads a snappy working septet of gifted musicians, delivering nine stimulating tunes with progressive artistry.
Two pieces inspired by Xenakis’ percussive work Persephassa bookend the album: “Kore II” and “Kore I”, opening and closing tunes, respectively. The former is deliciously timbral and contrapuntal, racing with fragments of jagged angularity and pushed forward by an odd groove in seven; the latter is cooked with a slippery, steam-powered tempo and spotlights Jacob Garchik on trombone; it slightly rocks at some point before the culminating crescendo.
I felt a high-energy punch with the buzz-like drones and hypnotic pace of “Idiom II”, in which codified and notated elements were applied. It was like hearing a Scottish bagpipe intermittently discontinued by the injection of low-pitched rhythmic accents. A cello solo reaches far corners… sprawling horn-driven embroideries let the piano and the vibraphone stand out… rhythmic patterns are left to the final section. It sounds beautiful!
The three uncanny parts of “King of Denmark” are intensely percussive and the first of them presents kinetic manifestations from vibraphone, shrieky piano, continual flute chirping, terse cello traces, and indistinct horn sounds. This sets the tone for “Loper”, whose pondered kickoff never impeded the energy to flow. Afterwards, everything transforms with surprise, and a spectacular tenor solo arises, having lacerating cello incisions and bass kicks running in the back. The passage before the final is equally amazing, arranged with unisons and scattered horn wails uttered with a mix of authority and passion. Webber borrowed certain elements of Edgar Varèse’s Ionisation, a musical composition written for 13 percussionists, for this piece.
The title track starts by combining unhurried bass notes, glasslike vibrations, and keyed up bass flute. Our attention is deflected to Mitchell’s thought-provoking classical-influenced pianism before reaching a collective conclusion.
“Array” combines upbeat funk attitude with pointillist fixation whilst the short-lived “Hologram Best” registers John Cage as the motivational source. It showcases outgoing sax lines flying over a danceable surface permeated by piano and horn lines in counterpoint.
Even though individual contributions take the form of strong improvisations, it’s the magnitude of the collective that makes this body of work so extraordinary. Everyone listens closely to one another, a fact that compels the interplay to feel so instinctual, whereas the written parts have no dull moments, demonstrating ingenious imagination.
01 - Kore II ► 02 - Idiom II ► 03 - King of Denmark I/Loper