recent dev group shot

Recent Developments

MEMBERS

 Jeb Bishop, Eivind Opsvik, Dan Peck, Hank Roberts, Brandon Seabrook, Sara Schoenbeck, Anna Webber, Nate Wooley

"The new body of work by Mr. Eisenstadt, a freethinking yet methodical drummer and composer."

-Nate Chinen
New York Times

VIDEO

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NOTES AND INFO

CD release Concert May 6 2017,  Greenwich House, Sound it Out Concert Series

March 2017, Songlines Recordings

Liner notes by Penguin Guide to Jazz Co-editor Brian Morton:

 

Harris Eisenstadt – Recent Developments

I once said to a famous saxophonist (who will remain anonymous here) that I had really enjoyed his recent work. He glared a little. “You mean you enjoyed my record, m**********r. Don’t talk to me about ‘recent’. You weren’t with me yesterday. Or this morning. And you won’t be with me tomorrow morning. That’s recent.” It was a lesson learned and a warning not to assume that a creative life in improvisation is defined by those packaged bulletins that used to come at us in big square sleeves and then smaller boxes. These days, it’s possible for an artist to show us what he did yesterday, or before breakfast today, by posting a diary entry on the web or in a cloud. The same famous saxophonist, who was known at the time for putting out rather a lot of records also took issue with another word I’d let slip. Why, he wanted to know, were critics so obsessed with an artist’s “development”? It is, to be fair, a problematic term. It suggests that art is always on some kind of upward trajectory, moving stage by stage from “derivative” to “original but unformed” to “confidently mature” and from thence, ideally, to “late masterpiece” just before the obituaries get published. It’s a word that, patronisingly, has some association with paediatrics, detailing what, at such-and-such an age, ought to be happening. But it also used to have a usage in photography where “development” meant nothing more than the fixing on paper of certain preferred images out of a pool of undeveloped ones. And that’s the sense I’m happier to retain here.

     Certainly, Harris Eisenstadt doesn’t seem to have any qualms about either word, since he’s chosen to name his latest record using both of them. And we take their meaning quite plainly: here are examples of work, chronologically not distant, that illustrate the best aspects of the new stuff he’s been doing with one of his newest ensembles. I’ve always had an affection for plain and functional titles over portentuous ones: Led Zeppelin III over Houses of the Holy; Grachan Moncur III’s Some Other Stuff over its ambitious predecessor Evolution; anything called just Songs, or New Songs, or More Songs. In the past, Eisenstadt’s titles have often given clues to their provenance or their guiding philosophies. There was his work with the Ahimsa Orchestra, inspired by the Gandhian injunction to do no harm. And there was the fascinating Guewel, which reflected his period of study in Senegal, absorbing Wolof culture and rhythms, and the ubiquitous mbalax music of Dakar.

We’ve seen him draw inspiration from Schoenberg in an album of free jazz ballads, and develop distinct group-languages with his Canada Day and Golden State projects.

     It might be said of Eisenstadt, borrowing a famous (and perhaps over-quoted) line from another celebrated Canadian, that his medium is his message. Few modern leader/composers write quite so distinct(ive)ly for the group, rather than simply setting down themes in front of a group and allowing the component idiolects to make what they will of them.

     Here, then, we have something new and rather different. Not only a record that declines to offer any kind of programmatic clue to the contents, and an ensemble that looks and sounds quite different from the orthodox swing-to-bop-and-beyond combo. In one respect the “recent” designation seems to play against the instrumentation. There are youngsters out there – one of them listened to the early mixes of this album with me – who aren’t aware that the banjo was once a regular, and in some regards, an essential component of a jazz group. Nor that the tuba once served where nowadays an upright bass would be found. There are many who remain convinced – despite Illinois Jacquet, Yusef Lateef and Daniel Smith – that the bassoon has no place in our music, or – despite Ray Brown, Ron Carter, Tristan Honsinger – that the cello is a sure improvising voice. All this is unhistorical, and nothing is more detrimental to jazz appreciation, let alone criticism, than a failure of historical understanding.

     The first jazz groups, or maybe we should call them proto-jazz groups, were probably string ensembles or groups derived from house orchestras, playing below-stairs and deep into the night after delivering diluted classics and operetta to the master’s guests. Instead of reading notes, those early players improvised on favourite songs and chants and sometimes, according to some recollections, just improvised, loving the sound of their instruments in undress. That quality seems to shine through here. Eisenstadt has an unfailing sense of form and of structural integrity. Nothing to which he puts his head or hand ever seems to lack an architectural logic, but one that seems always to defy gravity or the familiar mathematics of masses and forces. His solo work is always notably light and mobile, from the Roy Haynes or Kenny Clarke rather than the Art Blakey end of modern jazz drumming. The present ensemble’s instrumentation may seem unusual, even strange, but only as read on the back of a CD box. Once heard, it makes complete sense, both as a totality and as a network of freely conversing “sections”. It flies, this group, very much like a Canada goose, vectored in basic black and white lines, strong and direct, but with a certain conscious grace of movement. I say this with confidence because a small group of them, who once missed the migratory boat, inhabit my home glen and seem to have formed a small society of their own. That is what an ideal music ensemble should be, too: a social entity with its own dialect and manners, gathering in twos and threes and town meetings to discuss recent developments. And just as interesting, what might turn up in the unknowable tomorrow. So it is with Harris Eisenstadt. Today is always fascinating, and tomorrow a constant enticement.

 

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