III and Octet Jazz Times Double Review


Canada Day III (Songlines)

Canada Day Octet (482 Music)


Far more than other instrumentalists, drummer/leaders tend to feel the need to qualify their compositional efforts as being “not a drummer’s record,” as if sitting behind the kit limits one’s imagination to explosive percussive outbursts. With two new releases for his Canada Day ensemble, one the third release by the core quintet and the other with an augmented octet, Harris Eisenstadt obviously doesn’t feel the need for such declarations. Not that either album finds Eisenstadt hogging the spotlight for extended solo turns; both, however, showcase the inventive ways in which he can translate his identity as a drummer into a striking compositional voice.


That inspiration comes in part through the intricate use of rhythm. The presence of vibraphonist Chris Dingman in place of a pianist or guitarist serves to offer the possibility of a rhythmic or melodic voice, and Eisenstadt takes full advantage. Contrast the way that each of Dingman’s volleys seems to ripple through the leader’s playing on “A Whole New Amount of Interactivity” with the way that the chiming vibes combine with Garth Stevenson’s husky bass to conjure the sly melody of “The Magician of Lublin.” But it’s also expressed via the combination of textures, especially in the interaction of Nate Wooley and Matt Bauder, both of whom have expansive inside/outside approaches. So Wooley’s trumpet can sputter and squeal on the jittery “Nosey Parker” and dig into a deep muted swing on “Magician.” Bauder is tenderly lyrical on “Song for Sara” (penned for Eisenstadt’s wife, bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck), breathy and crepuscular on “King of the Kutiriba.” Even when he cedes control, the entire band understands the way in which their voices meld, as in the clutter of isolated sounds that concludes “Interactivity.”


Canada Day Octet supplements the quintet with trombone, alto and tuba, and takes a more orchestral approach to composing for the group. Four of the album’s five tracks comprise a suite entitled “The Ombudsman,” named for the way Eisenstadt’s music mediates between complexity and accessibility, structure and freedom. It’s an apt reference given the sweep of his writing. The leader’s crisp, riveting opening solo is soon accompanied by a horn fanfare, and by the end of the first section’s fourteen minutes the collective has broken apart into a whirlpool of free improvisation. Eisenstadt employs even this larger collective with an ear toward the way each element works within and against the whole, whether corralling the ensemble into the lovely palette-cleansing colors of the final track, “Ballad for 10.6.7” (undoubtedly the prettiest outcome of computer frustrations in recorded history) or paring down to small subdivisions: tuba and arco bass on “The Ombudsman 1,” cascading vibes over chattering drums on “2.”


With each new release, Canada Day is developing into a more intriguing ensemble as well as an ideal, malleable outlet for Eisenstadt’s distinctive concepts. SHAUN BRADY