harris eisenstadt

drums
composition

interviews

Music Arts:
New Music on the Spot
by Paul Weideman
January 20, 200

Three illustrious practitioners of improvised music will take the stage at the Center for Contemporary Arts on Saturday, Jan. 21. Drummer Harris Eisenstadt, trombonist Paul Rutherford, and bassist Torsten Müller combine a wealth of experience in jazz and experimental music in Europe and North America.

Müller, who moved to Vancouver, Canada, in 2001, is best known for teaming up with German reedmaster Wolfgang Fuchs to form the ensemble King Übü Örchestrü in 1983. Müller has made music over the years with Gunter Christman, Evan Parker, John Zorn, and Ken Vandermark. He is co-curator of Vancouver's annual Time Flies Improvised Music Festival.

Rutherford first played trombone in England's Royal Air Force bands from 1958 to 1963 and soon after cofounded the Spontaneous Music Ensemble. Thirty years ago he began mixing sounds created with electronics and other means into his music, performing and recording with Derek Bailey, Tony Oxley, Parker, and Anthony Braxton, among many others. His most recent album, Hoxha, features Vandermark, Müller, and Dylan van der Schyff.

Canadian drummer and composer Eisenstadt has a master's degree in fine arts from California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, Calif. In addition to his work with dancers and his film scores, he has collaborated with a variety of musicians, including Les Claypool, Yusef Lateef, Bennie Maupin, Butch Morris, Sam Rivers, and Wadada Leo Smith. Last year's The Soul and Gone is his fifth album as leader.

Pasatiempo found Eisenstadt at home in Los Angeles.

Pasatiempo: This trio is starting its West Coast tour here in Santa Fe. How often have you performed with Paul Rutherford and Torsten Müller?

Harris Eisenstadt: Actually as a trio we've played only once, at the Sugar Refinery Improvised Music Festival in Vancouver in June 2003. I just played with Paul at a festival in Newcastle, England, in October, and Torsten and I have been friends for years. He got in touch with me a year ago and suggested this tour. This will be Paul's first time in New Mexico; he rarely comes to the United States.

Pasa: One review of The Soul and Gone says your writing "borrows from post-bop, structured improvisation, and contemporary classical." Is that a good description?

Eisenstadt: I guess those are all sources I'm drawing on, as well as traditional world music, rock, and other sources. My only intention is to try to write music I feel is my own.

Pasa: You wrote all the music on your new album. Whose music will the trio be playing in Santa Fe?

Eisenstadt: They're new compositions that the three of us will make up right on the spot. This will be improvised music that draws on a tradition of European improvisation as well as North American improvisation. It relates in part to what has been done by European improvisers like Paul and Evan Parker and Derek Bailey and some of Torsten's slightly older contemporaries in Germany and Holland. These are the first generation of people who heard what was going on in the 1960s with the AACM [the Chicago-based Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians] and John Coltrane and assimilated that into their own experiences. So the music is as informed by Europe as it is North America. Pasa: Is there a way to describe the particular type of communication that goes on with drums, trombone, and bass?

Eisenstadt: I suppose any time you put bass and drums together there's a set of expectations or possibilities that exists from the long tradition of rhythm-section kind of playing, but this will be more egalitarian. It will be more than trombone solos with bass and drum support. It's very much an equal, nonhierarchical dialogue.

Pasa: You have made music at Mandingo celebrations in Gambia. Did you study drumming there?

Eisenstadt: Yeah, I did. I stayed at the home of the famous kora [21-string harp lute] player Foday Musa Suso, and he organized some wonderful teachers for me, and I played in a kutiro drum ensemble. These are conical drums you play with one hand and one stick. There are two support drummers who play really elegant, interlocking rhythms, and the lead drummer improvises on top of them while also blowing a totally different rhythm on a police whistle and acting as master of ceremonies, dictating when dancers come in and out.

Pasa: Do you know Steve Feld? He's a Santa Fean who is working now with drummers in Africa.

Eisenstadt: He's a major inspiration. I first met him when he was still at Columbia [University]. George Lewis and Steve are the greatest examples of artist-academics. Their lives are completely devoted to art and making creative music, but they're also like heavy, heavy thinkers.

Pasa: You've performed in New Mexico with Mark Weaver and J.A. Deane, and you've recorded for Mark Weber's Zerx label.

Eisenstadt: Yeah, it's like you turn around and Mark [Weber] has recorded another five CDs, and you're on two of them. He's a great guy, and I like how much he does documenting the really fertile New Mexico music scene.

Pasa: You're going to offer a workshop before the concert here. How will that work?

Eisenstadt: I guess we'll have to see what's happening and who's there, but we'll do an in-the-round improvisation, a moving-duo exercise where two players start a theme with long sounds and then we pass the hopefully not-broken telephone along, and each person drops it and tries something new. I'm sure we'll also do some large-group stuff and also solo stuff. Paul particularly is famous for his seminal solo-trombone recordings like his Gentle Harm of the Bourgeoisie 1974, which is on the same shortlist as Anthony Braxton's For Alto [1968]. So the workshop will be about communicating different sounds and the textural things you can do.

Pasa: Do you enjoy teaching?

Eisenstadt: It's only about 15 percent of what I do, but I have had some great opportunities. I was hired as a demonstrating artist for Lincoln Center's Rhythm Is Our Business jazz-education program. That was in the late 1990s, and I was teaching at high schools in Queens and Brooklyn, giving seminars in the history of jazz drums to people who were not hip to the roots of African American music.

I also enjoy occasional private students because as they get further along you can have some more complex things going on, but I like teaching elementary drums, too.

Pasa: Have you done any projects for film lately?

Eisenstadt: I have. I played on the score for Wedding Crashers, and we're in the movie as well. I also did an interesting thing for a new studio in L.A. They wanted a 7-year-old girl playing drums, so I ended up helping them cast the little girl, and I had to teach her how to play drums in about a month. I also recorded hundreds of rhythms for the director to check out so he could decide what they wanted her to play.