Harris Eisenstadt

Recent Developments
Songlines SGL 1620-2

Harris Eisenstadt Canada Day

On Parade in Parede

Clean Feed CF 413 CD

By Ken Waxman

Having reached a comfortable maturity in his playing and composing, Toronto-born, Brooklyn-based percussionist Harris Eisenstadt isn’t averse to showcasing both his talents in varied settings. Like an athlete who excels at more than one sport, the drummer has with On Parade in Parede created a spirited FreeBop session with his Canada Day quartet. Meanwhile Recent Developments is a spiky recasting of composed chamber jazz played by a nonet.

Trumpeter Nate Wooley, the only other player featured both discs, is cast in dual roles as well. Given a large canvas to work with on the quartet disc, his contributions are splattered in dribs and drabs, using back-of-throat growls, plunger squeaks and sometimes muted correlation to advance themes, often doubled by tenor saxophonist Matt Bauder’s understated counterpoint. Eisenstadt’s targeted ascents plus the loping stops of bassist Pascal Niggenkemper are cleanly executed while confirming the band’s take on the jazz tradition. The drummer’s nerve beats and rim shots also underline the narrative on “We All Ate What We Wanted to Eat Parts 2 & 5” which is both bumpy and boisterous. With the trumpeter squeezing emotional lines from his horn’s mid-range in counterpoint with the saxophonist’s excursion into split tones plus wood-rending pumps from the bassist, it’s Eisenstadt’s cunning rhythms which join thematic shards into a satisfying ending. Other stand-outs include the ultimately relaxed “A Fine Kettle of Fish” and mellow “We All Ate What We Wanted to Eat Part 3/She Made Old Bones” which maintain their musical integrity through Wooley’s gorgeous open-horn solo on the first and reed-and-bass string modulations on the second. But like hipsters wearing retro threads whose iPhones mark their a 21st Century connection, enough timbre disintegration plus dense sheets of sound are heard to confirm that this isn’t your parents’ FreeBop.

Neither is the other CD’s program standard chamber jazz or even chamber music. Although reminiscent at points of some of Charles Ives’ early 20th Century semi-rural compositions, a cutting urbanity is present to strip away any leanings towards sentimentality. Instruments such as Anna Weber’s flute, Sara Schoenbeck’s bassoon and Hank Robert cello may have so-called classical antecedents, but they’re not treated that way during Eisenstadt’s six-part suite. More crucially harsh twangs from Brandon Seabrook’s banjo serve as scraping chalk-on-blackboard interruption any time retrogressive cursive harmonies threaten. Eivid Opsvik bass provides a steadying bottom; plus Wooley and Jeb Bishop’s trombone serve as broken octave contrasts to the reed expression. As for Dan Peck’s tuba, its snorting forays alongside the banjo are as far from Dixieland as Jupiter is from Pluto. “Part 2” is a fine instance of this, since following an undulating exposition of bassoon, flute and walking bass the piece accelerates to a face-off between rasgueado banjo and tuba blats and ends with a lonesome trombone slur. The effect is that of a brass band marching past a banjo picker serenading on his front porch.

Unlike On Parade in Parede, with others in the disrupters’ roles here, Wooley is outstanding as a colorist, for instance packaging smears and whinnies into warm grace notes to link with the drummer’s martial beats on “Part 1”. Elsewhere open-horn trumpet smoothness and tuba burbles provide a stretched out backing to a paroxysm of bassoon tongue twisting, until these gradually rising brass harmonies regularize and steady the theme. Moving through interludes where unexpected instrumental groupings and contrapuntal affiliations bring out instance of swinging surprises from every instrument, no matter how out of its comfort range it must be yanked, Recent Developments reaches an imposing climax of melded imagery and techniques with the brief “Part 6” and “Epilogue”. Buoyant themes reach logical conclusions with harmonies that – usually via Seabrook’s strums – retain a spiky edge, while contributions from the other players frame a suite which belies its prosaic title to confirm the drummer’s skilful maturity – and compositional mastery.

-For MusicWorks #128 Summer/Fall 2017