A native of Ottawa, Canada, and son of a University of Ottawa music professor and a National Arts Centre Orchestra of Canada violist, Webster releases his second solo album, Momentus, this year. His first, Leading Lines, received round praise for its sophisticated take on accessible material. Webster is known for his love of Afro- Latin music and extensive collaborations with some of its most luminary exponents, including William Cepeda, Arturo O’Farrill, and John Benitez, and the influence is audible in Leading Lines. Momentus exhibits elements of Webster’s trademark style, but is notably different, building upon the artist’s experience in the intervening years.
Webster, whose initial move to New York City was made possible by a $20,000 J.B.C Watkins Award from the Canada Council for the Arts, graduated from Manhattan School of Music in 2004. The same year he had begun collaborating with legendary trombonist and percussionist William Cepeda, who recognized Webster’s particular genius for fleshing, transforming, and orchestrating basic melodic kernels, and hired him to arrange for and play saxophone in his band, which toured Puerto Rico in April and May of 2004. In 2009 Cepeda and Webster produced Posesión, a concert length piece for big band and strings adapted from Cepeda’s ideas.
In 2006 Webster released his first solo album, Leading Lines, which featured Grammy-winning bassist John Benitez, and drew heavily on Webster’s Latin Jazz influence. The record showcases nuanced and surprising takes on Webster’s characteristic lyrical melodies, brought to life by a variety of ensembles ranging from duo to nonet and encompassing a range of moods from brash big-band shout choruses to tender string swells. Of Leading Lines, pianist Garry Dial wrote, “the orchestrations are exquisite. The use of strings, woodwinds and brass evokes the genius of Gil Evans and Maria Schneider.”
An ever-expanding portfolio of commissions, including those for American Idol Contestants, Arturo O’Farrill, and the Saint Joseph Symphony Orchestra, propelled Webster’s career. In 2008 O’Farrill’s Grammy-winning Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra commissioned Webster to compose an original work for big band. The resulting work, Mombogro, premiered at New York’s Symphony Space, with Michael conducting.
Re-appropriated from album title, Leading Lines became the name of Michael’s 17-piece working large ensemble, which in 2010 gave a concert at New York City’s iconic Saint Peter’s Church, featuring legendary alto-saxophonist Dick Oatts. In the same year, Webster won his third grant from the Canada Council for the Arts, and arranged a work for 75 musicians for the New York Jazz Academy that was performed in Carnegie Hall.
2011 saw Webster beginning to lead a small ensemble, the Michael Webster Quintet, in performance at venues around New York. WNYC's Soundcheck featured the band in its Gig Alert segment as the top gig to hear in NYC on Nov 2, 2011. The group was featured at All Night Soul with famed Canadian trumpeter Ingrid Jensen in an incarnation that eventually recorded Momentus, Webster’s second album, at Systems Two studios in Brooklyn.
Momentus is notable as a departure from the genre-based music of Leading Lines, into stream-of-consciousness storytelling and ambitious long-form explorations. Webster plays nimbly with the textural and orchestrational options his unconventional six-piece ensemble allows, featuring Ingrid Jensen’s trumpet and Chris Dingman’s vibes, and stretches the possibilities of form. What will likely endear this album to casual listeners and critics alike, though, is the strength and clarity of its thematic material. Central to Webster's work, and lending it a universality and catharsis transcendent of its instrumental setting, is the feeling that the tune has absolute primacy.
Webster lives in Brooklyn, New York, and continues to compose, perform and tour with both his own groups and as a sideman.
Michael Webster - Momentus
2012 OA2 Records
Michael Webster succeeds at creating vivid imagery through the development of candid themes and unambiguous grooves. There's much more to this New York-based tenor saxophonist than the predictable collage of instrumentalist who also writes tunes. Composition seems to be the impetus for Webster's musical output.
Momentus, his second release as a leader, is an alluring collection of accessibility, band cohesiveness, the occasional odd-metered challenge and solid performances. Webster and bassist Ike Sturm sound strong on "Erica's Song," gliding over the waltz tempo with assuredness. Trumpeter Ingrid Jensen lights up the tricky "Indecision" and the left-of-center funk of "Beam Me Up." The latter also features vibraphonist Chris Dingman and guitarist Jesse Lewis in fine form. Jared Schonig keeps a fiery hold on things throughout.
Michael Webster, Momentus: An album that surges forward at near imperceptible speed until it suddenly overtakes the ear. Tenor saxophonist Webster leads a sextet that includes past Jazz Picks Chris Dingman on vibes and Ingrid Jensen on trumpet/flugel. Modern jazz tunes with an ambient personality. Some tracks definitely burn, like on “Train Song,” with guitarist Jesse Lewis’s fiery section, but for the most part, this New York crew performs rainy-day music like they have second homes in the midst of the Seattle scene. Highly Recommended.
The post ECM cool school vibe is alive and well in Brooklyn in the hands of Webster, Ingrid Jensen, Ike Sturm and the rest of the kids that are coming up and marking their paths. Call him Paul Winter's wayward progeny that veered off into ethnomusicology on Mars if you will but Webster is creating a new standard that others will turn into cliché. Tempting as it might be for moldy figs to play spot the influence, of course you can find Miles' space explorations here, but just like Apollo was a long way from Friendship....you catch my drift. Check it out.
This is an album that creeps up on the ear, and like a ocean tide slowly overtaking the shore, before one knows it, the music has completely immersed the listener. For Momentus, Michael Webster has assembled a strong group to perform his original compositions, and the choice of personnel pays off big time. For this is something of an alternate reality of a modern jazz recording… music with a sense of shifting phases just off the fringes of the expected. And as several of this album’s personnel have proven on other recordings, this hazy medium is where they excel.
Your album personnel: Michael Webster (tenor sax), Chris Dingman (vibes), Ingrid Jensen (trumpet, flugelhorn), Jared Schonig (drums), Ike Sturm (bass), and Jesse Lewis (guitar).
The music on Momentus presents itself with ambient textures that reveal their substantive side in sneaks and peeks. This approach suits Dingman’s style perfectly, as he’s previously displayed a talent for eliciting a dreamy atmosphere from his vibes. And while Lewis does have some combustible moments on guitar, like “Train Song,” his performance just further proves the hypothesis that guitar-vibes pairings are the perfect synthesis of bright heat and icy warmth. And Webster utilizes his sax to wrap those two up with a bow while simultaneously guiding the ensemble through each song.
Jensen and Sturm pick their spots on trumpet and bass. Of particular interest is the interplay between Jensen’s trumpet soaring over top of Dingman’s methodically constructed vibraphone rhythms. Equally compelling is the engine-caboose effect of Schonig’s drums often meeting the charge of Webster’s sax while Sturm’s bass trails off the sentences off Dingman’s vibes. When those two effects work in tandem, even better the results.
The tune “Beam Me Up” is a notch more upbeat than the other album tunes, and it gives the artists an opportunity to step up and solo a bit. There gets a point during this tune that the album threatens to break the album’s overall ambient texture, but then Dingman meshes into a Jensen solo with a frenetic wave of vibes that transforms into a near drone, and that combo snaps the song into place. And not even the heat brought by guitar and sax just after can do anything to break it.
The title-track is a breakthrough moment for the album. Appearing half-way through the album’s span, it encapsulates much of what has come before and how the album will continue. A driving tempo that plays out like a lazy drive through the countryside, vibes and sax construct layers of repetition that change incrementally while trumpet arcs overhead in a path that drums etch into the ground, and bass and guitar frame the song at opposite edges. The volume and tempo rises and peaks and recedes and quiets. There is a sense of unfinished thoughts, as the ensemble changes direction before waves crest. And it’s the amalgamation of that series of unfinished thoughts that coalesces into a breathtaking mosaic, delivered in a soft and unassuming way.
Nifty how “Train Song,” with its heavy reliance on melodic and harmonic development contrasts with the rhythm-first approach of “Train Song Reprise.”
The album opens and closes with tunes that drift across the room. “First Sunrise” gives hints of things to come.. a little thunder here, a little serenity there, slow loping notes on sax and trumpet contrasting with a rapid pace by bass and drums. Whereas on album closer “Simple Wish,” the ensemble brings a sense of finality to the proceedings… a definitive touch.
An album that slowly unfolds, revealing its excellence in its own time and with a soft touch. It’s not a recording that will require much patience to connect with, but I highly recommend sticking around for awhile until it does finally make that solid first impression.
Released on the Origin Arts label.
Jazz from NYC.
Available at eMusic. Available at Amazon: CD | MP3
Michael Webster's creations are long, unfurling musical journeys chock full of content. Singable melodies come swathed in a background of advanced, modern harmonies and adventurous, challenging rhythms.
Michael Webster has produced a beautiful CD of original music. His ideas as a composer and saxophonist are heartfelt and clear. Keep an eye on him!
on Leading Lines:
A beautifully imaginative record.
The orchestrations are exquisite. The use of strings, woodwinds and brass evokes the genius of Gil Evans and Maria Schneider, while remaining true to a unique and personal voice. It is difficult to make a fully orchestrated and arranged large ensemble CD without losing the essence of the jazz soloist's improvisation. Once again, here Michael hits a home run. His saxophone solos would stand alone powerfully in the jazz quartet even without the beautiful orchestrations behind him.
The track sounds amazing... a first rate ensemble, with all the players contributing strong performances. The multifaceted scoring is quite impressive, especially the intriguing textures achieve[d] between the string[s] and traditional jazz instruments. String voicings and articulations in the lyrical interlude are wonderfully evocative...solo sounds excellent as well.
featuring 9 original compositions for quintet,
with Ingrid Jensen on trumpet, Chris Dingman on vibes, Jesse Lewis on guitar, Ike Sturm on bass, Jared Schonig on drums.
featuring John Benitez, Michael Rodriguez and 19 piece orchestra
Composer Jeff Fairbanks combines big band sounds with traditional Korean musical influences. Featuring Fred Ho on baritone saxophone.
NYC pianist Garry Dial & vocalist Terre Roche re-imagine 16 national anthems featuring musicians from the respective countries whose anthems they arrange.
With Pete Eldridge, Vic Juris & Jeff Hirschfield.
Recorded live in Puerto Rico in 2004.
featuring Dave Liebman, Donny McCaslin and Joel Frahm
featuring Michael Webster's arrangement of Kenny Barrons's 'Voyage'
Michael Webster's Leading Lines is a 17-piece chamber jazz orchestra comprised of some of New York's finest young musicians including Sam Sadigursky (reeds), Sara Caswell (violin) and Jesse Stacken (keyboards).
Featuring a unique blend of Latin Jazz rhythms, classical textures, funky odd meter settings and sheer groove, Leading Lines is a perfect springboard for Webster's melodically accessible, harmonically rich & rhythmically infectious music.
The group performs regularly in NYC and has had Village Vanguard Orchestra lead alto saxophonist Dick Oatts and Juno-winning trumpeter Ingrid Jensen as featured guests.
Webster plans to record Leading Lines in 2014.
The Michael Webster Quintet was formed in Spring 2011 as a vehicle for Webster's long-form small ensemble composition.
The group features Chris Dingman on vibraphone, Jesse Lewis on guitar, bassist Ike Sturm and drummer Jared Schonig, all of whom are active musicians, bandleaders, and composers on the NYC scene.
Trumpeter Ingrid Jensen began appearing as a featured guest with the group in October 2011. The song "Momentus", conceived as an interactive journey of six melodic lines tied together by a relentless eighth-note pulse, was written with her in mind.
He has been on the faculty of the New York Jazz Academy since its inception in 2009, where he teaches jazz improvisation and co-directs the big band ensemble.
Since September 2015, Michael has been the director of jazz ensembles at the Special Music High School in New York.
Michael also served as Music Director for United Rhythms & Visions, a private arts agency presenting workshops, concerts & plays in Jersey City public schools in 2008-09 and again in 2012-13.
Please contact Michael directly at email@example.com for more information.
Michael giving an improvisation workshop to saxophonists in Cuba through the non-profit Horns to Havana (0:33 and 1:10) in 2011