Bruce’s Fingers BF 58

Ahimsa Orchestra
Nine Winds NWCD0237

Having established himself with hard work as an in-demand percussionist and band leader in Los Angeles, Toronto-born Harris Eisenstadt is branching out. He’s traveling to the East Coast, Europe and Africa to match wits with his improvising contemporaries and writing more involved compositions for larger ensembles.

K3 is an example of the former, where he hooks up with British-born bassist Simon H. Fell, who now lives in France, and Dublin-born, London-based trumpeter Ian Smith. Conversely the Ahimsa Orchestra is a local project, featuring the percussionist, conductor Omid Zoufonoun and two differently constituted, 12-piece ensembles running through two of Eisenstadt’s compositions, the three-part “Non-Violence” and the four-section “Relief”. Kudos must go to the young drummer for attempting different projects. However, while he fits comfortably with Smith and Fell, his reach seems to have exceeded his grasp with the 67-minute CD by the band named with Mahatma Gandhi’s word for enemy-loving non-violence.

Throughout the parts are greater than their sum, since some of the West Coast’s most accomplished, outsides players – including trumpeters Dan Clucas and Kris Tiner, tubaist Mark Weaver, reedists Vinny Golia, Kyle Bruckmann and Sara Schoenbeck, guitarist Noah Phillips, and trapsmen Alex Cline and Eisenstadt himself

– get to show off their skills.

Unfortunately, the surrounding through-composed passages are non-connective and nearly threadbare. Orphan riffs are one thing, but when they resemble intermezzos and leitmotifs that can’t decide whether to be impressionistic or early 20th century classical, chutzpah takes the place of coherence.

Probably the best playing comes in the last section of the second suite when several countermelodies featuring Ellen Barr’s flute, Clucas’ muted trumpet and Bill Casale’s pulsating bass give way to an undulating stentorian tuba solo from Weaver that’s perfectly backed by bounces and flams from Eisenstadt. When the drummer turns to a more conventional rhythm, the trumpeter’s tremolo trills shine, suggesting that “Relief IV” may be a postlude rather than a proper climax.

Earlier in the same suite, driven by the rattles and rims shots from the understated percussion of the composer and Cline, massed orchestral harmonies give way to a squirming clarinet solo from Brain Walsh and a glottal lower register bassoon line from Schoenbeck that precede an conclusive crescendo. Splayed, cross-sawed textures from guitarist Phillips’ follow bell resonation from the percussionists, with both players rolling and rumbling through the penultimate thematic variation as sputtered split tones and pitch-sliding vibrations courtesy of Walsh and Golia produce diffuse harmonies. Still, despite Weaver’s obbligato and a horn crescendo, the overall impression is cold because the compositional glue holding the piece together seems to be lacking.

It’s the same story with “Non-Violence” despite some harmonic coloration created by a piccolo-trumpet tremor, valve twisting plunger work from trombonist Toyoji Tomita, reed squeaks and aviary twitters and sophisticated bass drum spots and reverberating cymbal parts from Eisenstadt. Here the connective material appears even more prettified than on the subsequent composition. Simultaneously though, there’s too little of it as well, often exposing the disconnected motifs among the yowling, rubato reed and brass timbres.

The situation was more balanced a year earlier at London’s Klinker club during the trio meeting. A memento of the drummer’s visit to the United Kingdom, Eisenstadt’s apparently more relaxed in the improvisational role on the four instant compositions here. Fell, who is has been a consummate combo player for years – as well as being an ambitious composer – is an asset in any circumstances, but the biggest surprise is Smith.

A far cry from his tentative work from three years previous when he recorded alongside some BritImprov veterans, his confident soloing in all registers of the horn easily allows him to hold up his part of the triangular equation. Perhaps consistent work with the London Improvisers Orchestra, consisting of some of the city’s most accomplished improvisers has toughened his chops.

No matter the cause, the spurts of resolute brass timbres with which he decorates his solo on the last three minutes of “Voiceless Velar Stop” are some of the most impressive trumpeting anywhere. Smith appends a few bent notes as a coda, having been hectored along by steady bowing from Fell and blunt ratamacues from Eisenstadt. Prior to that, the trumpeter moves from audacious mouthpiece tongue kisses to wah-wah buzzes plus clenched teeth slurs; he’s so in step with the drummer, that often a tone could be as much brass as percussion.

Imbued with the sprit of older British rhythm makers like Tony Oxley and Roger Turner, Eisenstadt sleekly works his way through his kit, matching heavy knocking on the rims with split-second whispering reverberation, and clanging chains on top of the heads as often as he attacks them full force. Someone who has studied with the griots in Africa, he brings darbuka and djembe hand-drum resonations to other sections, such as an extended work-out on the final track which contrasts nicely with Fell’s legato, Europeanized bowed notes.

Able to express spiccato vibrations with the same ease as walking, the bassist’s string organization encompasses buzzing sul tasto excursions and sections where he moves the tonal centre with polyrhythmic scratches and reverb. Strumming and sometimes nearly in slap bass territory, Fell is never at a loss as to how to rebound the pulse back and forth to the others. Plus the trumpeter is there to let loose with anything including sonorous pedal tones, purring valve whistling, fowl-like quacks, speedy brass bites and plunger whines.

Maybe one day Eisenstadt can translate his impressive performing and compositional talent from small combos to larger ones. Perhaps working with a more compact group would have benefited his conception for the AHIMSA ORCHESTRA. As it stands now though, K3 is a keeper, with the other CD of most interest to those who want to preserve every marker in the drummer’s accelerating career.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: K3: 1. Potassium 2. 1024 Words 3. Voiceless Velar Stop 4. The Unit Vector Along the Z-Axis

Personnel: K3: Ian Smith (trumpet); Simon H. Fell (bass); Harris Eisenstadt (percussion)

Track Listing: Ahimsa: Non-Violence: 1. I 2. II 3. III Relief: 4. I 5. II 6. III 7. IV

Personnel: Ahimsa:

Tracks 1-3: Liz Allbee and Kris Tiner (trumpet); Toyoji Tomita (trombone); Phillip Greenlief (b-flat clarinet); Kyle Bruckmann (oboe); Sara Schoenbeck (bassoon); Steve Adams (C flute); Bill Horvitz and Noah Phillips (guitars); George Cremaschi (bass); David Branddt (vibraphone); Harris Eisenstadt (percussion); Omid Zoufonoun (conductor) Tracks 4-7: Dan Clucas (trumpet); George McMullen (trombone); Mark Weaver (tuba); Brian Walsh (b-flat clarinet); Sara Schoenbeck (bassoon); Vinny Golia (bass clarinet); Ellen Burr (C flute); Phillips (guitar); Jessica Catron (cello); Bill Casale (bass); Eisenstadt and Alex Cline (percussion); Omid Zoufonoun (conductor)