August 24, 2000
A few years ago someone wrote that all major jazzmen are romantics, including such surprising figures as Ornette Coleman and Thelonious Monk. While guitarist Bruce Eisenbeil isn't in their class — yet — on the evidence of this CD, he's trying to reflect unsentimental passion while wrestling with the guitar's place in post-modern jazz.
In a way both these tasks ran parallel. For none of the all-original tunes on this session sound like the standard saccharine ballads which have become the bane of mainstream jazzers. At the same time, although New York-based Eisenbeil studied with the likes of Joe Pass and Howard Roberts, his playing no more resembles that of a ordinary lounge plectrumist than Coleman's did Paul Desmond's.
Instead what Eisenbeil tries to do here is come up with an approach that simultaneously displays soloing and accompaniment, often in the course of the same few bars. Considering conventional guitar's enduring popularity in pop music and "standard(s)" jazz, this experimentation is a brave task indeed.
On the atmospheric "Caesar", for instance, a not-quite-blues, the guitarist seems most involved with exploring single line textures, while Sawyer rattles and rumbles around him. Then as the tempo ratchets up, the two become more abstract. "Blue Poles", on the other hand, after its bowed bass introduction — a consistent leitmotif here — finds Brunka minutely shadowing Eisenbeil as he finesses his way through the tune.
Anyone who has heard the guitarist's earlier CD, NINE WINGS (CIMP 144), an abrasive guitar/sax/drums, free jazz blow out, may wonder about the placid tone here. But a quick listen to the other session — while perhaps mentally subtracting Rob Brown's alto saxophone — will reveal the same measured guitarisms as this one. Paradoxically, they sound more conventional in that context.
If there's criticism that must be directed towards MURAL, however, it's a sameness of approach. More varied tempos and a few additional colors would have enlivened the almost monochromatic sound picture here. Plus CIMP's now infamous engineering, which at intervals causes Brunka to completely disappear, doesn't help matters either.
Eisenbeil is one of those investigators searching for a new way to approach playing the world's most popular instrument. With his CIMP CDs he seems to have exhausted the possibilities of a trio context. His next session will feature many more collaborators in varied settings. Likely, it will provide an even more sympathetic insight into the scope of his philosophy.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Wildflowers 2. Caesar 3. Woman with a Handful of Rain 4. Prelude 5. Habeus Corpus 6. Chris V. Paradise 7. In Memory of A.D. (High Relief) 8. Crucifixion 9. Blue Poles
Personnel: Bruce Eisenbeil (guitar); J. Brunka (bass); Ryan Sawyer (drums)