July 26, 2004
HARRIS EISENSTADT QUINTET
DEAD CAT BOUNCE
Home Speaks to the Wandering
By looking sideways for inspiration to sounds that encompass the brass band tradition, intricate African rhythms, plus hearty helpings of modern jazz and pure improv, two youngish bands have come up with noteworthy CDs that reconfirm eclecticism.
Stacked up next to one another though, JALOLU may have a slight edge over HOME SPEAKS TO THE WANDERING. Thats only because the Gambian and Ghanaian inspirations of drummer Harris Eisenstadt are less familiar than the outcome of many Dead Cat Bounce (DCB) compositions, whose voicings draw on sources like Charles Mingus and the World Saxophone Quartet (WSQ).
Los Angles-based Eisenstadt also has the advantage of having his original compositions interpreted by two adaptable veterans and two veteran adapters. One older musician, trumpeter Paul Smoker, has recorded with multi-reedman Anthony Braxton and a collection of freebop bands, while the other, multi-brassman Roy Campbell, is a close associate of bassist William Parker. As for the younger participants, cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum has duetted with Braxton and been in Bostons Fully Celebrated Orchestra, while baritone saxist and clarinetist Andy Laster, is a 40-something whose band experience stretches from cerebral cellist Erik Friedlanders group to swingsters Ballin the Jack. Meanwhile the Toronto-born drummer has worked with Yusef Lateef and Sam Rivers
Boston roots are very familiar to DCB, whose name is guaranteed to offend animal right activists. With the exception of leader and composer Matt Steckler, who recently moved to Brooklyn after years in Beantown, all live in Massachusetts. One saxophonist, Drew Sayers, still attends the New England Conservatory (NEC), where bassist Arie Werbrouck graduated in 2003. Percussionist Bill Carbone has had different pop and jazz gigs since his 1999 NEC graduation, while woodwind player Jared Sims is an academic who has played with people as different as bassist Cecil McBee and the Jimmy Dorsey ghost band.
DCBs musical sophistication comes from alto and baritone saxophonist Charlie
Kohlhase, a longtime former member of Bostons Either/Orchestra (E/O). He has recorded with Braxton, co-lead a band with Danish saxophonist John Tchicai and fronted his own combos for years.
With its four-saxophone front line and backbeat drumming, DCB draws on the rhythmic New Orleans-style marching band tradition as much does the three-brass-and-one-reed of Eisenstadts quintet. But by sticking to the head-solo-head format and pushing its influences, the sextet appears to be more wedded to pastiche.
For instance, Dis You, Dear starts with a snaking Second Line beat as Stecklers breathy flute passage suggests Moe Koffman and/or Herbie Mann in their jazz/R&B phases. Sims clarinet, Werbroucks near slap bass and the other horns threaten to parade into Dixieland territory and even Kohlhases honking baritone is only as modern as what is played by Fats Dominos band. By the end, at least, the two-beat line has given way to some walking bass leading DCB into Cool Jazz territory.
Additionally, with its various inspirations Angelic & Podlike makes DCB sounds a lot like that other Boston institution the E/O. The saxes morph from a unison rondo to sounding like Count Basies 1950s sax section, to soprano-led passages that could have come from jazz-rockers Ten Wheel Drive. Overall, though, the head of steam dissipates due to the lightness of the attack.
Then theres Myopia Hunt Club where pinched, boppy sax riffs back up Stecklers penny whistle. The leaders double tongued solo has a thinner sound than a dyed-in-the-wool bopper would produce and the voiced vamp underneath sounds a lot more like Woody Hermans Four Brothers band then the WSQ — an impression not helped by Carbones flashy Buddy Rich-style drumming.
More exciting, but still with transparent influences are Department of Homeland Strategy and Hepcat Revival. At least the later mixes suggestions of Kwela and TV soundtrack music with a direct tribute to Mingus. Held on course by foursquare bass playing, the jittery beat is extended by a slinky, light-toned soprano line from Sims and some soulful tenor honks from Steckler. Once someone starts chanting oh lordy and handclapping, however, you start to think youre listening to an earnest emulation of Better Get It In Your Soul.
Booker Ervin, Mingus star tenor soloist, is recalled by Sims on Department , a foot tapper rife with a gospelish call-and-response sections. Here though, the Texas tenor sound is cut with unexpected pecking thrusts from the other horns and a military-style rat tat tats from Carbone. Finale and crescendo finds the six loosening their mooring and going out in a blaze of horn slurs and drum rolls.
Featuring rip snorting collective improvisations and a back beat that rarely stops, HOME SPEAKS TO THE WANDERING is a pleasant swinger, well worth your time. Next time out, though, it would be better to know just exactly who the members of DCB are, rather than their influences.
In a contrasting fashion JALOLU suffers from a bit of confusion as well. None of the brass solos are identified, which makes it hard to knock — or more likely praise — any brassman for his work on a particular track. Moreover with no bass player Laster has to do double duty, usually using low tones to supply the continuum upon which the others solo. Furthermore, a couple of the tunes arrive in two different versions, which bespeaks decision-making uncertainty on the leaders part.
Theres no quarrelling with Eisenstadts percussion prowess however. Interestingly enough, as well, probably because of JALOLUs links to the polyrhythms of Mother Africa, he depends a lot less on his cymbals than a traditional jazz drummer and makes more use of cowbells, woodblocks and other percussion.
Press rolls and hocketing bounces characterize his work on Mwindo, a triumphant line that also features fanfares and honks from the brassmen. As they take turns soloing — one with brassy insouciance, another with smeared buzzes and the third with double-tongued grace notes — the drummer plays varied and opposing patterns beneath each one. Turning from snapping out phrases with hand mutes, the three reprise the theme and exit with a series of bent notes.
At more than nine minutes each, both versions of Seruba give a different view of the piece. Seruba (take 2) features mellow and muted crossed lines from the brass meeting baritone slurs and Mandinka song and dance beats from the drummer with flams and rolls from snares and toms. One trumpeter — Campbell? — takes a precise muted solo, then another — Smoker? — answers with a jolly bugle-like call. By the end, the piece morphs into a mid-tempo jazz-like dance, with bass drum whacks adding to the heavy bottom ostinato produced by Laster, seemingly as much from his bow as his reed.
Seruba (take 1), which is more impressive, at first comes across like a perverse version of Gerry Mulligans quartet with Art Farmer, with the baritonist and one trumpeter mixing it up together. When the drums shift first to march tempo, then to a Second Line shuffle, trumpet lines trill and splash and a few sax phrases suggest Night Train. After a stop time section featuring massed trumpets advances the theme, Eisenstadt tries some doubled bounces, rebounds and cymbal snaps on for size, while mid-range sax playing and higher-pitched trumpets give the tune a Hi Life overlay.
A similar situation exists with the two versions of Jumpin In. Although the almost 10-minute first run through includes some rapid syncopation from one horn and buzzy rubato trills from another — not to mention vibrating false fingering and glottal punctuation from Laster — the feel is that of a ragged march. A crescendo of screeching unison tongue fluttering then takes it out.
Jumpin In (take 2), is far superior. Partially a showcase for the drummer, quicksilver trilling brass lines and chirping obbligatos from the sax appear to loosen his attack. Using press rolls and rim shots he turns around and encourages Laster to bend his notes and one trumpeter to snap off rapid triplets. Soon two of the brassmen are trading phrases of different lengths, while another plays completely at variance, offering up hocketing tones. Adding what could be Native American pow wow beats to the piece, the drummer helps build up the theme to a crescendo, then abruptly cuts it off. Overall quieter and more self-consciously tunes dont work as well in this configuration.
All and all, though JALOU is definitely worth hearing for what Eisentadts quintet has accomplished. It also makes you impatient to see what the percussionist can create from now on.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Home: 1. Hiram Hinklers Shrunken Heads 2. SOS Ankara 3. Hepcat Revival 4. Myopia Hunt Club 5. Hear My Flow 6. Cat: Is It Fish or Finite? 7. Dis You, Dear 8. Angelic & Podlike 9. I Once Was Vaccinated with a Phonograph Needle 10. Department of Homeland Strategy
Personnel: Home: Jared Sims (soprano and tenor saxophones and clarinet); Matt Steckler (soprano, alto and tenor saxophones, flute shaw whistle, holler); Charlie Kohlhase (alto and baritone saxophones); Drew Sayers (alto, tenor and baritone saxophones); Arie Werbrouck (bass); Bill Carbone (drums and percussion)
Track Listing: Jalolu: 1. Boogie on Lenjeno 2. Seruba (take 2) 3. Mwindo 4. Go 5. Jumpin In 6. Seruba (take 1) 7. Ahimsa (Non-Violence #2) 8. Jumpin In (take 2)
Personnel: Jalolu: Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet); Paul Smoker (trumpet); Roy Campbell (trumpet, picket trumpet, flugelhorn); Andy Laster (baritone saxophone and clarinet); Harris Eisenstadt (drums)