On the “videos” section of Anna Webber’s personal website, there is a YouTube clip of “Rectangles 2,” the brief lead track on Binary. The video reveals that Webber composed the tune’s jagged rhythm in sync with a kitten lying on a bed, trying to pin down a ballpoint pen its owner teasingly prances in front of it. There are six “Rectangles” pieces among the dozen songs on the album, each apparently inspired by a video on a YouTube test channel known as WebDriver Torso. This sort of random yet preordained approach to creativity could easily become tedious if Webber’s Simple Trio didn’t contain pianist Matt Mitchell and drummer John Hollenbeck, two of the very best musicians at transforming precise parameters into luminous improvisations that don’t break the mold. Mitchell’s glorious contributions to the muse of another renegade saxophonist, Tim Berne, are an especially relevant comparison. You know the cliché about vocalists so distinctive you’d pay to hear them sing the phone book? It applies to Webber, Mitchell and Hollenbeck playing the Internet.
The term “avant-garde” gets thrown around a lot, but Webber really is an artist trying to mess with the status quo between your ears. Take the second song on Binary, which begins with her 40-second tenor solo and proceeds with the sort of sophisticated, multi-textural interplay associated with the Brooklyn-based vogue of blending jazz and new classical music (Webber’s throaty gaggle of notes, the trash-can-lid sound Hollenbeck gets from his cymbals). After about four minutes, the song seems to be winding down … only to pick itself up and forge ahead. It’s the first of numerous occasions over the next 10 minutes where the cues of denouement—descending chords, extended notes, a thematic resolution—are invoked, only to have the tune slowly pivot in another direction with a different mood. The title of this wonderfully dithering 14-minute opus is “Impulse Purchase.” It might be the best of many Binary examples of how the Simple Trio is anything but simple.