Flutist and saxophonist Anna Webber has a penchant for the elastic and mangled. On 2014’s Simple and 2016’s Binary, both released via Chris Speed’s Skirl Records, she directed the rhythmic traffic of her not so “Simple Trio”—pianist Matt Mitchell and drummer John Hollenbeck—to head-spinning heights. For this album, her Pi debut, she’s upped the über-knotty ante even further with a progressive-minded, odd-time-signature-laden hybrid.
Webber goes big on Clockwise, introducing a new group with thicker dynamics and a continued command of structural complexities. Mitchell, Jeremy Viner (tenor saxophone, clarinet), Jacob Garchik (trombone), Christopher Hoffman (cello), Chris Tordini (bass), and Ches Smith (drums, vibraphone, timpani) help her realize the set’s ambitious goal: to pay tribute to various works for percussion by several of her 20th-century composer heroes. Passages from compositions by Xenakis, Feldman, Varèse, Stockhausen, Babbitt, and Cage become launch pads, as Webber and her deft unit probe for material to be reimagined.
Drawing equally from classical and experimental, jazz and prog, these nine pieces dart and lurch, sometimes peppered with piercing dissonance and out-there noodling. Webber is an adept bandleader, and on tracks like the razor-sharp opener, “Kore II,” her talent is crystallized in just under four minutes. It’s a thrilling, angular waltz-y number, as the leader’s flute-driven salvos align with Garchik’s trombone wails, and Mitchell’s piano stabs Smith’s rock-centric beats. Horns swirl and squeal in snaking fury on the maze-like “Idiom II,” featuring a buzzsaw solo turn by Hoffman. The 10-minute, playfully abstract “Array” teems with spasmodic tones and textures. On “King of Denmark II,” “King of Denmark III,” and the blustery “Hologram Best,” Webber sprinkles brief, noisy interludes into the fray. Clockwise is an exceptional, ever-adventurous outing from an artist whose stylistic shifting knows no bounds.