harris eisenstadt




**** Fight or Flight

Eisenstadt’s second release as a leader almost perfectly balances new-music ensemble compositions with an impressive level of improvisational integrity. The harmonic development of the opening section of ‘Rise’ is textbook accurate, but there is a freedom to the improvised sections and Fowler’s mournful statement over the leader’s delicate cymbal figures is impeccably crafted. The flutes are subtly modulated with Dutz’ superb marimba work. Together, they don’t so much subvert the familiar horns-and-piano idiom of a jazz group as extend the language in a new and attractively alien way. ‘People Are Gonna Do What They’re Gonna Do’ is almost a blues march, a dark but never rancorous journey through a troubled landscape with individual testimonies along the way. The closing “Trouble Here, Fly There” begins in a similar vein but then but then breaks out into a more driven line. Eisenstadt brilliantly balances the polarities of the work as a whole- low and high, fast and slow, metrical and free, abstract and almost programmatic – and delivers a set that though short by contemporary standards seem absolutely crammed with material.’ Fellow percussionist Gerry Hemingway contributes a short but illuminating liner note, a model of its kind.


*** Ahimsa Orchestra

‘Ahimsa’ is the Gandhian concept of non-violence, which seems to be very important to Eisenstadt, though some might say in this project he takes slightly too far its more profound meaning of avoiding any hurt and offence of any sort. Like his small-group work, this larger ensemble is deployed with remarkable quietness and subtlely, though the leader does feature himself as a percussionist, which rarely happens with the small groups. Again there is a nice balance between structured composition an improvisation. The instrumentation – with flute and clarinet and bassoon and oboe on the first gour tracks – has a ‘classical’ resonace, though the growling guitars and Eisenstadt’s typically light and skittering percussion immediately cancel that impression. There are two ensembles here, both recorded live, but in Berkeley andd LA respectively and just under a year apart. The first three tracks comprise ‘Non-Violence,’ a thoughtful, quietly logical composition that lacks dramatic action, though there are some strident brass moments in the central movements and at the beginning of the finale. ‘Relief’ opens with Eisenstadt alone, some three minutes of unaccompanied playing that is as good a measure of his skills as any on record. Even after other instruments begin to emerge out of the quiet, he is still the main voice. The remainder of the movement is bitty and indistinct and the suite only starts to develop coherence with the beginning of the second of four sections. Part three is the most jazz-like, though the finale also has an underlying thematic development which picks up on harmonic ideas from earlier.


***(*) Jalolu

A fascinating concept and line-up, and the music delivers as strongly as it promises. The project seems to have been inspired by Eisenstadt’s late-2002 visit to the Gambia, where he stayed with the kora player Foday Musa Suso; ‘jalolu’ is Mandinka for ‘musicians.’ Drummers have long been attracted to the highly specific and local percussion traditions of West Africa. Almost uniquely, Eisenstadt seems to have used the experience to reinforce his own thinking rather than simply borrow exotic patterns and time-signatures. The opening, ‘Boogie on Lenjeno,’ does, however, use traditional elements, albeit with playful intent. ‘Mwindo’ sees the horns hocketing back and forth across the drum metre. ‘Jumpin In’ is dedicated to Eric Dolphy and some ideas the great saxophonist gave to Yusef Lateef in 1961. ‘Ahimsa #2’ returns to a long-standing concern and series of pieces. Somewhat unusually for CIMP, there are alternate takes of ‘Seruba’ and ‘Jumpin In’; they’re by no means makeweights but further examples of a remarkable group at the peak of its powers; only the improvised piece ‘Go’ (dedicated to Adam Rudolph) doesn’t entirely convince.


**** The Soul and Gone

Eisenstadt’s finest recording to date is a delicately swinging, utterly melodic combo record. Eisenstadt has an excellent time-sense, as he demonstrates on the opening ‘The Evidence of Absence is Not Necessarily the Absence of Evidence,’ but elsewhere he prefers to use his kit melodically rather than to generate a groove. Tortoise guitarist Jeff Parker is probably the best known member of the group and delivers a tight, logical solo on the same cut. Bishop has worked in Ken Vandermark’s group and bring s a similar authority to this, particularly on the long Posauno Y Schlagwek; Between A Rock.’ ‘Three Breaths’ is more abstract, while ‘Portrait of Holden Caulfield’ conveys a callow innocence with very real edge. ‘Seed’ is a dedication to faith-minimalist composer Henryk Gorecki, opening in near-silence and developing with almost geological slowness thereafter. Again, Adasiewicz is a key element, bending his notes with Mears’ lovely clarinet, soft trombone, bass and guitar sounds. Eisenstadt is almost entirely out of the picture until the halfway point. He’s back with a vengeance on the closing ‘And a Hard Place,’ with the famoliar pattering, almost song-like approach that builds in pace and intensity towards a climax that unexpectedly recalls Roswell Rudd’s work with Archie Shepp. A fine record on its own terms.


**** The Zone

Rutherford continued - scandalously - to play more dates abroad than in his native Britain. This comes from a concert in Santa Fe with the only European bassist who can currently aspire to Peter Kowald’s and with a young Canadian drummer whose quiet, concentrated approach adds hugely to this superb recording. For long periods on the opening ‘Booming Grounds,’ it is genuinely difficult to separate ‘bone squeaks, Muller’s creaking-branch effect and the delicate susurrus of Eisenstadt’s kit. The sound flows easily and as if from a single imagination – perhaps The Zone is the locus. The title-track begins with Rutherford, and when he comes in it is with absolute logic and authority, playing rich, brassy tones as close to ‘idiomatic’ trombone-playing’ as you’ll hear from him. A magnificent statement, but does the track just end or has the tape been edited before the applause? On ‘Laughing Lizard,’ Rutherford sets up a didjeridu growl under Muller, and only later moves to open tones. The final piece, ‘Schoenberg Swung Am Hardesten,’ pretty much sums up the rest of the record; again, mostly quiet, with lots of room for drummer and bassist to explore their shared and contentious domain, gnomic wisdoms from the senior player, great collective understanding. (An appreciative liner-note from fellow trombonist Jeb Bishop is a further plus).


***(*) K3

At first glance, this is a more conventional situation, in that the line-up follows a more fixed and familiar pattern. The music’s anything but ordinary, with visiting man Eisenstadt bringing his typical range of energies and sound-colours and Fell delivering an authoritative line from first to last. Until the arrival of the scene of the brilliant young Peter Evans, Smith was the most exciting trumpet exponent around. Brilliant as Evans is, Smith shouldn’t be overlooked.


*** The Diplomats

We’re not we’d send these guys to sort out an international incident. That said, there is a lot of quietly philosophical stuff hidden away among these four long improvisations. The shortest of the bunch, ‘Past the Roots,’ is perversely the most effective, making one wish for a slightly more focused approach. However, it’s exciting music, and with swell somewhat acting as the anchor and Eisenstadt doing his usual vivid turn, it’s an excellent listen.


*** Vista

A collaboration with drummer Harris Eisenstadt and percussionist Adam Rudolph. Highly concentrated playing from Rivers, but not one of his essential recordings.


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