• courtesy of the artist
  • Anna Webber

Last summer I wrote about Simple (Skirl), a trio recording by New York-based, British Columbia-born winds player Anna Webber. Flanked by drummer John Hollenbeck and pianist Matt Mitchell, Webber maintained the tricky complexity of the writing on her 2013 album Percussive Mechanics, but she also gave herself space to showcase her improvisational prowess. Her compositions are dense and multipartite, with loads of interlocking parts and shifts in tempo and mood. Now Webber is back with the German group that worked with her on Percussive Mechanics on a new album called Refraction (Pirouet). Webber gets her fair share of solo space on the new recording, but the best thing about the album is the inventive arrangements, which draw more from the lockstep minimalism of Steve Reich than the modular, intervallic structures of Henry Threadgill (another of Webber’s influences).

Webber juggles flute, alto flute, and tenor saxophone—she favors the tenor in her improvisations—and the septet delivers a magnificently translucent timbre, thanks to the sparkling vibraphone and marimba of Julius Heise and the airy textures Webber braids with the clarinet and alto saxophone of James Wylie. Too often when jazz-related players tango with structures and writing redolent of contemporary classical music, the results are lumpy and leaden, but Webber is remarkably sure-handed, balancing propulsion and weightlessness—not only is she utterly confident in both worlds, but she seems certain to push the boundaries of each as her work progresses. I can’t wait to hear where she goes next. Today’s 12 O’Clock Track is one of Refraction‘s most arresting pieces, “Tacos Wyoming,” in which an ingratiating, elegantly winding melody constantly changes complexion thanks to a deft manipulation of rhythmic schemes (the band includes two drummers, Max Andrzejewski and Martin Kruemmling).