Wednesday, August 22, 2012

CD Reviews: Harris Eisenstadt - Canada Day III & Canada Day Octet




Harris Eisenstadt
Canada Day III
(Songlines) www.songlines.com

Harris Eisenstadt
Canada Day Octet
(482 Music) www.482music.com

The descriptor drummer/composer/bandleader no longer seems that unusual. There are more and more players who lead from behind the trap kit, composing more than just rhythmic outings over the easy changes. But Harris Eisenstadt seems to spend a lot of time working on his compositions. His notes for Canada Day III make several references to first drafts of the music or how a couple pieces began as sections of other compositions that ended up on the cutting room floor. It proves that you should never throw away any ideas. It also proves that Eisenstadt is pretty productive musician. Less than a year ago, I reviewed his September Trio album from Clean Feed, which featured an entirely different personnel than either of these albums.

Canada Day III was recorded by his quintet: Nate Wooley (trumpet), Matt Bauder (tenor saxophone), Chris Dingman (vibes), Garth Stevenson (bass) and Eisenstadt. The pieces are marked by subtle rhythmic tricks and melodic turns that don't loose any impact if you don't read about them in the CD cover. The quintet recorded them following a tour which means they are very familiar with the ins and outs and it sounds natural. "Slow and Steady" has a feel of intrigue and a slight touch of "Misterioso" thanks to Dingman's coloring. Two of the melodic instruments play in four while the other two play is six, both changing sides before the relatively brief (3:45) tune wraps up. Again, without knowing the basis of the structure, it's easy to just get lost in the mood. It's also a good way to open the set.

Upon hearing sustained vibes notes over a walking bass line, it's hard for me to not think of "Hat and Beard," from Eric Dolphy's Out to Lunch. "The Magician of Lublin" really sounds nothing like that tune, but the feeling is there in the opening moments, following some high register bowing from Stevenson and before the horns play the brief melody. Dingman plays remarkably throughout the album with a very astute way of backing the soloists or taking one on his own. Wooley can live up to his name, sounding downright feral ("Nosey Parker") or bright and sharp ("Magician") at will. Bauder also balances no-nonsense blowing with a gruff side, the latter coming in the opening of "Shuttle off This Mortal Coil." That title and several others betray Eisenstadt's influences, which go beyond music to literary sources and account for the unique stylings of his work.

Speaking of which, he added alto (Jason Mears), trombone (Ray Anderson) and tuba (Dan Peck) to the quintet for a performance that lead to the recording of the four part "The Ombudsman" suite on Canada Day Octet. Eisenstadt has recorded no less than four large scale groups in the last 10 years (does this guy ever stop?) so he's no stranger to a group this size. The term ombudsman might be familiar to the NPR-listening crowd since they've had one who serves as a go-between for their staff and listeners. Eisenstadt sees this ombudsman as a mediator between "those for creative music and those who are mystified by it." It begins with free drumming and a rubato theme, with all manner of different shapes coming and going. The three new guys to the fold all get a lot of space, Peck getting some of the more interesting parts. In the 14-minute first part, he sounds like he's humming as he blows. This track also ends with a feeling of group improvisation where everyone minds their p's and q's to make sure things don't sound too busy.

"Ballad for 10.6.7" closes the album, an homage to computer problems that slowed up Eisenstadt's writing. Naturally, such man-made delays didn't keep this good composer down and like the ballad on the previous album that he dedicated to his wife, this one isn't your typical sweet ballad, but something with a bit of bite to it.

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