Instrumental virtuosity is but one of the assorted elements that elevate Refraction, flutist/saxophonist/songwriter Anna Webber’s second album for Pirouet. Others include fierce intelligence, creative curiosity and a beguiling cheekiness that prevents the heady project from ossifying into inaccessibility.
“Five (Action),” the opening track, is hardly a straightforward blowing session. A chamber piece of sorts, the tune certainly tests the skills of Webber and her ensemble, which includes clarinetist/alto saxophonist James Wylie, vibraphonist/marimba player Julius Heise, pianist Elias Stemeseder, bassist Igor Spallati and drummers Max Andrzejewski and Martin Kruemmling. The musicians push forward in an intriguingly off-kilter fashion, owing to a tricky time signature and structure. Yet a Stemeseder spotlight adds a woozy wit to the proceedings that’s further amplified on “Tacos Wyoming.” Webber’s sax solo on this rhythmically minimalist wonder evokes the crazy winds that frequently blast across the title state.
Sly and sinuous, “Climbing on Mirrors” juxtaposes moments of percussive tumult with passages that sport as much silence as sound. “Theodore,” for its part, is unpredictable — even by Webber’s standards — ratcheting up the natural tension between written sections and independent excursions. Following “Relentless!,” a clear-the-air miniature, the program concludes with a pair of sprawling efforts. “The All Pro 3 Speed” contains some of Webber’s sprightliest flute and skronkiest sax, while the slow build of “Friction/VIF (Reflection)” carries the promise of a destination that’s worth the journey.
There’s grand ambition at the heart of Refraction, a recording that requires a listener who doesn’t expect or demand immediate gratification. It’s also a statement of purpose from an artist who clearly aspires toward memorable work as both a composer and an improviser. Webber sees no disconnect between these disciplines, as demonstrated with each note. —Michael Roberts