Dec 17 2013
This is an album that finds its identity in its changing tempos. Percussive Mechanics, the new album by Anna Webber, is an album with an array of moving parts, a collection of assemblages that don’t appear to be easy fits, yet keeping finding their home. This album is a multifaceted entity consisting of crosscurrents of motion and perpetual incitements of activity. The key is in how the alternating rhythmic patterns accentuate melodic fragments, and the way in which they smooth out the edges between compositional exactitude and wild improvisational flurries.
The other thing to know is that this is one of the most compelling albums of 2013.
Your album personnel: Anna Webber (tenor sax, flute), James Wylie (clarinet, alto sax), Elias Stemeseder (piano, wurlitzer), Julius Heise (vibes, marimba, whistling), Igor Spallati (double bass), Max Andrzejewski (drums, glockenspiel, miscellaneous percussion, whistling), and Martin Kruemmling (drums, miscellaneous percussion).
No track better exemplifies the way Webber’s ensemble utilizes the shiftiness of time than in second track “Certain Transcendence.” Webber’s opening solo on tenor sax is a series of quick hits, offered up more for their rhythmic value than note selection. But this transforms slowly into a statement of melody, turning into something quite pretty when Stemeseder and Heise accompany on piano and vibes. With Spallati’s bass as propulsion, they create a surging tempo that carries bits and pieces of the melody to shore. And in the same way it builds up to a crest, the ensemble breaks it back down, first by digging in deeper and transitioning into a thick groove, before transitioning back to a surging tempo that becomes increasingly sparse, so that by the time the song reaches its conclusion, it has returned to solitary notes murmuring words of rhythm.
This music stands pretty much alone. At times, it recalls the Claudia Quintet’s talent at summoning strange melodic threads from the midst of a thick rhythmic fog. It is also reminiscent of Todd Sickafoose’s Tiny Resistors, in that way a mixed bag of moving parts are made to coalesce into songs quite tuneful.
“Dan:ce” embodies both of those references with its pulsing tempo and spry melody. It’s a tune both blithely carefree and mathematically erudite. It’s a song whistled by an android on a beautiful Spring afternoon. And “Terrarose” with definitive melodic shouts amidst a sea of jumbled percussion… criss-crossing lines with a surgical precision and Jackson Pollock imagery.
Heise’s vibes open title-track “Percussive Mechanics” with the crispness of icicles and the warmth to melt them away. Wylie is a dust devil on alto sax, matching the song’s herky-jerky motion, but hinting at a pattern within apparent randomness. Heise returns to the forefront with a vengeance, pairing up with Webber’s tenor sax to bring an enveloping heat that covers the entire surface of the rhythm section.
“Sleeping Is Giving In” with its dreamy saxophone harmonies twirling about Spallati’s thick bass line, resounding like a heart muscle pumping blood to save its life. Those heartbeats get ever closer as the ensemble drives the song up into a furious roar, vibes creating something approaching a drone, and saxophones cresting above the rhythmic wave with wailing statements of melody.
Some melodies never leave the embryonic stage. “Vigilance” is a continuity of rhythmic stream-of-conscious statements. Webber’s opening solo seems more intent on warping time than forming something that a listener could hum along to. Heise accompanies on marimba, serving as glittering stars to Webber’s dim moonlight. And yet, there is a moment when Webber rises above it all and soars overhead with the most beautiful melodic phrasing… a brief interlude from the percussive dynamics that surrounds it.
“Histrionics” doesn’t even have so much as an interlude. It begins with the mewing of saxophone, and it ends with flailing… the appeal lies in the illustration of how a reed instrument can effectively spar with drums. And “Let It Cut More Deep” with arco bass and glistening marimba notes are a shadowplay duet between darkness and sunlight, bisected by a sudden confluence of the ensemble joining together for a grand statement of fury, before receding back to a smaller, sublime expression of unformed sound. And album closer “Eins!” uses tempo as a blunt force object, casting aside melodic intentions for a conclusion that’s all bang.
A recording that holds no small amount of fascination, offering up big sounds in tiny doses, and utilizing motion to toy with the sense of time.
Released on Pirouet Records.
Jazz from NYC.