August 23, 2019
Old Growth Forest II
Astral Spirits MF 196/AS093
The Fictive Five
Anything is Possible
Clean Feed CF 514 CD
Creative and cooperative – or is that just Canadian? – Toronto-born, Brooklyn-based drummer Harris Eisenstadt has for the past 15 years attracted attention as a sophisticated bandleader and band member. A disciplined quartet outing, Old Growth Forest II elaborates the balanced compositions Eisenstadt creates to utilize the strong points of this quartet. Attuned to free-form improvisation, Anything is Possible allots additional space to a quintet with two double basses to stretch to the limits and beyond, compositions by saxophonist Larry Ochs with the drummer’s patterns strengthening the free-flowing expositions with just the right amount of force.
On the first CD, the ambulatory pace of most selection is also pushed ahead by bassist Jason Roebke’s steady plucking, along with some detours into below-the-bridge slaps, as the gruff tones of Jeb Bishop’s trombone and emotional smears from Tony Malaby’s saxophones harmonize or engage in call-and-response. These slinky modulations are particularly noticeable on “Song with Owen” or in the horn face-off during “Rustling”, when Malaby’s ragged tenor saxophone bites and Bishop’s plunger smears vibrate while Eisenstadt’s drum rolls subtly accelerate the funky tempo. “Standing Snaps”, the one extended drum intermezzo, expresses the same feeling with measured and restrained pops and pumps, ushering in the equivalent of a New Orleans-like Second Line, which is subsequently taken up by soprano saxophone trills, tailgate trombone burrs and slap bass lines. Canny texture dislocation is a feature of “Needles/Seedlings”, the CD’s introductory composition. Parade-ground press rolls and nerve beats propel the chromatic melody which is decorated along the way with jagged altissimo cries from Malaby and stretched brass slurs, until climaxing during a slow exit.
Dual bassists Pascal Niggenkemper and Ken Filiano on the other CD push, probe and pluck alongside Ochs' raucous tenor and sopranino saxophone lines, Nate Wooley’s trumpet squeals and Eisenstadt’s sly patterning. Most obviously, the drummer’s skill is put to its best use with tracks such as “The Other Dream” and “A Fictive Form of Closure”. On the latter, horizontal cymbals scrapes and bell-like peals help toughen the theme as strained trumpet ripostes to Ochs’ flutter-tongued exposition are underscored by bass string thrusts. Meanwhile “The Other Dream” is a sizzling polyphonic showcase where crying tones from the top of the sopranino’s range and explosive half-valve effects from Wooley escalate into an exercise in glossolalia and renal groans that judder up and down the scale, but is kept from cacophony and attains hushed harmony, by bass string rubs and corralling drum rim shots and pops.
Eisenstadt’s mid-sequence pumps and tick-tock patterning mark this narrative’s turn around to expose the melody created on “With Liberties and Latitude for All”. Initially using hand slaps to emphasize the track’s moderate theme among timbres from Ochs’ tough overblowing, spiccato bass slices and trumpet note squirts, the drummer’s subsequent power thumps help focus the others to adhere to the tune’s sinewy outline.
Although only one CD here is entitled Anything is Possible, both express Eisenstadt’s commanding dual role presence.
-For MusicWorks Issue #134