A Music Ramble by David Royko
In my 1980s youth, I drummed in a prog rock band that considered 4/4 an insult. For a while, we opened our shows with a tune that featured a charging 13/8 time signature that we figured established our cred as wizards of odd meters. It was my sole compositional credit for the band, lifted from the Skokie Swift, a one-stop commuter train I rode weekly that had an ancient change collection machine that chugged for about 20 seconds every time someone dumped money into it. I realized one day that the grinding gears moved in a nice, twisty pattern that I slapped my thighs to figure out.
Binary shares some of that idea, except cubed and on steroids.
Using extra-musical phenomena to write music is as old as music itself. Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and Beethoven’s 6th Symphony, John Cage’s Music of Changes and the I Ching, John Zorn’s Cobra and game pieces – there are countless examples, and Anna Webber’s and her Simple Trio’s Binary is the latest. As her PR puts it, “Webber looked to the internet for inspiration. Using websites that turn words into drumbeats, YouTube test channels, and even her own IP address, she found a constant stream of inspiration for her compositions. The album's title track was composed using numbers and letters produced by a random binary digit generator.”
I have no idea what this really means, beyond the concept. And I don’t really care. All I know is that she and her trio have created some extraordinary music that is as challenging structurally, rhythmically (13/8? Pshaw) and harmonically, as anything out there these days. I quickly gave up trying to fit the various lines together and settled back to be enveloped in a vertiginous yet appealing maze of sounds, with all kinds of free-associative parallels flitting by, from Conlon Nancarrow to Bill Bruford, touches of free jazz, some Moondog moodiness, both Braxtons -- father Anthony and Battles-era son Tyondai, played from an almost frightening level of virtuosity.
Bass-free trios are somewhat common these days, and here’s another one that is so full within its busyness that one doesn’t miss the boom, marveling instead that a piano+wind+drums group could sound so big.
Saxophonist/flutist Webber calls her band the Simple Trio, which is almost funny, though I have no doubt they could play simple music and it would sound just dandy. With John Hollenbeck on drums and Matt Mitchell on piano, they could do anything they want. But few could accomplish what they have with Binary.