Harris Eisenstadt

Golden State Songlines SGL 1602-2

By Ken Waxman

Harris Eisenstadt better watch out. If he continues to release ground-breaking work like this CD he’ll end up giving chamber jazz a good name.

Over the past decade, the Toronto-born, NYC-based percussionist has demonstrated his effectiveness as composer, leader and sideman in a variety of contexts from experimental to roots-oriented while staying clearly within the jazz-improvising continuum. Golden State is a slight departure since it fuses the tones from two primarily orchestral instruments – Nicole Mitchell’s flute and Sara Schoenbeck’s bassoon – with the non-symmetrical yet explicit beat of Mark Dresser’s bass and Eisenstadt’s drums.

Chamber-jazz has gotten a bad rap over the years since it’s usually associated with bland programs that replace jazz’s inventive muscularity with soothing textures. In contrast Eisenstadt’s sophisticated themes ignore hierarchal roles to showcase unexpected instrumental blends, matching the rigor of so-called classical music with the freedom of improvisation. As an example of his skills consider “Dogmatic in Any Case”. As the rhythm section’s flexible movements ground the narrative, spry emotionalism is expressed by the horns, first blended, than individually. A known quality because of her work in the AACM and elsewhere, Mitchell’s whorls and flutters are passionately articulated, and this comfortable talent is subtly transferred so that the bassoonist’s dyspeptic gutsiness continues to express real feeling. Without resorting to faux jazziness that many double-reed players bring to non-so-called-classical music, Schoenbeck animates “Especially Preposterous Assertions”. She uses rapid tonguing and her instrument’s natural grittiness to swing hard, and her work is balanced by gutsy bass-string stops.

At the same time as Eisenstadt’s individualized compositions allow the reedists to expose the improvisatory heart of their often stolid instruments, they also showcase Dresser’s multifaceted talents. Unparalleled throughout as a pulse-maker, his arco facility is such that on “Sandy” his lyrical strokes could come from a viola-da-gamba, purposely extending the joyous baroque-like shadings that parallel what flute and bassoon lines already bring to the piece.

Always sympathetically constructive in his playing, the drummer propels these tracks without loudness or forcing a beat. By letting the soloists and compositions be primary focus here, Eisenstadt suggests that his music has the potential to be as transformative as other non-idiomatic composers such as Anthony Braxton.

Tracks: What is a Straw Horse, Anyways? ; It is Never Safe to Be; Dogmatic in Any Case; Unless All the Evidence is In; Sandy; Especially Preposterous Assertions; Flabbergasted by the Unconventional

Personnel: Nicole Mitchell: flute; Sara Schoenbeck: bassoon; Mark Dresser: bass; Harris Eisenstadt: drums,

—For The New York City Jazz Record November 2013