Shimmer Wince is the new album by American, New York-based sax player-flutist-composer Anna Webber, featuring a new quintet with trumpeter Adam O’Farrill, cellist Mariel Roberts, synth player Elias Stemeseder and drummer Lesley Mok on drums. Webber’s compositions for this quintet explore the applications of Just Intonation (JI) in a jazz and improvised context, including its intersections with rhythm and groove. Webber employs this non-equal tempered tuning system as a continuation of her research into using timbre and sound as organizing forces that are as important as harmony, melody, and rhythm. Webber already began to work with this concept on her album Idiom (Pi, 2021, with Adam O’Farrill, among others) where she measured the frequencies in a set of saxophone multiphonics, isolating those which could be described as simple ratios (5:4, 6:5, etc), and using those ratios to create polyrhythmic variations on a melodic line.
Webber began to dive deep into the research of the JI system while she was on a fellowship at the American Academy in Berlin during the Covid-19 pandemic’s lockdowns and thought about how she could use JI as a tool. «How could I translate these specific harmonies to a timescale rapid enough to write the rhythmic music that I wanted to write, as well as to highlight their inherent relationship to rhythm? How could I notate these pitches for improvisers, who might not have had much experience hearing this sort of harmony, much less seeing it notated? And, most important to me, how could I create music with these ideas that felt loose, joyful, and relaxed?», Webber writes in her liner notes.
The seven pieces on Shimmer Wince highlight the countless, challenging hours of personal practice and full quintet rehearsals, focusing on applying Webber’s concepts of JI to each of the quintet’s instruments and improvised language. before entering the Oktaven Audio in Mount Vernon, NY, in December 2022. The music is clearly cerebral and complex, like all of Webber’s compositions, but far from being academic or rigid. It sounds, surprisingly, way more harmonic, playful and even joyful as Webber leaves enough space for the music to breathe and develop in with its own inner logic, and, obviously, in its own special, eccentric and strange ways and with its many unconventional details and nuances, especially when compared to previous albums of Webber. The meditative opening piece «Swell» and the closing one «Shimmer» offer a contemplative and introspective, subtle haven about the ancient non-equal tempered tuning system. Shimmer Wince feels like an album that can only be conceived, composed and arranged by Webber, blurring the distinction between modern jazz and experimental, contemporary music, and one that would have been an impossible album to make with another quintet.
Anna Webber (tenor saxophone, flute, bass flute), Adam O’Farrill (trumpet), Mariel Roberts (cello), Elias Stemeseder (synthesizer), Lesley Mok (drums)