By Derek Stone
Opening with a spacious, spare trickle of notes, “Five (Action)” is a tightly-wound opener, one that moves forward with the ineluctable persistence of a mechanical clock. It establishes the rhythmic modus operandi of the group: controlled taps, short bursts of notes that are as efficient as they are energetic, and hefty amounts of space. “Tacos Wyoming” takes this palette as a starting-point, but quickly adds to it an infectious melodic motif that winds its way throughout the piece. By the end, when the reeds, vibraphone, and piano are locked together in a convoluted, ecstatic dance, it’s exhilarating - it sounds like a jazzier reworking of Music for 18 Musicians, with shapes and patterns that shift, fuse, detach, and then go on to form different configurations. There are short instances of improvisation, it seems, but Percussive Mechanics truly shine in their sense of precision and control - with these compositions, there’s little room for error, and Webber has assembled the perfect group to bring her vision to life.
“Theodore,” one of the longer pieces on the album, starts with a series of tentative rustlings; after a few minutes, that formlessness is replaced with a solid groove from drummer Martin Kruemmling. Compared to the pointillistic percussion of the previous tracks, it’s somewhat surprising, but the rest of the septet waste no time in taking advantage of it. Almost as soon as it begins, however, it dissolves in an extended wail from the reeds - and then back again into the abstract sound-world of the beginning, with Max Andrzejewski’s marimbas, Julius Heise’s vibraphones, and Elias Stemeseder’s piano offering soft droplets of color.
“The All Pro 3 Speed” is something of a slow burner at first, with Igor Spallati’s bass providing the firm, rock-steady foundation. Additionally, Anna Webber here plays the flute, improvising with fervid exuberance and showing that her instrumental abilities are just as formidable as her talents for composition. As the piece develops, Wylie (on alto saxophone) joins her, and the two engage in a primal outburst that is rare for the group. While the restraint and exactitude of Percussive Mechanics are admirable, it’s admittedly exciting to hear them go a little haywire. As its name implies, “The All Pro 3 Speed” works in several modes - towards the end, the (two!) drummers approach tempos that are closer to Drum ‘n’ Bass music than jazz, but not for long - soon, we are back to the group’s aforementioned modus operandi: clattering rhythms that intersect and complement one another with machine-like methodicalness.
Anna Webber’s Percussion Mechanics is a joy to listen to, and they provide an interesting take on contemporary jazz, one that is as informed by Reich, Terry Riley, and composer Arvo Pärt as it is by maestros like Braxton and Henry Threadgill. Hopefully, Webber will get involved in more projects soon and release music that is of the same high-caliber as Refraction - I, and many others, will be eagerly waiting for it!