Harris Eisenstadt – Guewel (CF 123)
A sequel of sorts to Jalolu (2003), Harris Eisenstadt’s latest taps another side of his African musical experience and presents another pivotal project in the percussionist’s evolution.Guewel tweaks the quintet line-up of the earlier CIMP set, trading one of the trumpet chairs for Mark Taylor’s French horn. Taylor and baritone saxophonist Josh Stinton make for easy aural marks, but the inspired pairing of brass aces Nate Wooley and Taylor Ho Bynum is a bit more difficult to parse. Even with the decision to field distinct instruments, the duo’s more texture-oriented excursions can be a welcome challenge to untangle.
The streamlined program switches source locales from Gambia to Senegal with Eisenstadt’s detailed notes delineating both process and rationale. The drummer’s arranging goals are ambitious, fusing traditional regional rhythms with transcriptions of Senegalese pop music. A third element, collective improvisation, isn’t as easy to thread and the seams between sections are often audible, sometimes awkwardly so. These moments are relatively minor and the decisive energy of the ensemble and individual statements succeeds in shoring most of the leaks.
Deployed in twos, the source tunes borrow from the songbooks of Orchestra Baobob, Star Number One and others. Each set supplies melodic grist for the horns and ample room for loose-limbed grooves from the leader. Eisenstadt regularly divides the group up into smaller parcels, dialoguing closely with Taylor on “N’daga/Coonu Aduna” or scaling back his sticking after a stretch of staccato polyphony as Wooley and Bynum trade in steely growls on “Kaolak/N’Wolof.” “Dayourabine/Thiolena” builds from a call and response march into a gorgeous chamber colloquy of horns. Stinton muscles in on “Barambiye/Djarama,” shirking off measured phrasing for a statement stamped with raw-throated split tones and circular breathing as Eisenstadt deftly fractures the rhythm around him.
As fun and focused as the band is, a shout out seems due to engineer Reuben Radding, too. Better known as composer and improvising bassist, Radding’s capture of the sounds is according, giving all the instruments – especially the leader’s kit – clarity and brightness that is often immersive. Whether you’ve made earlier legs of Eisenstadt’s journey or not, this latest travelogue will bring you swiftly up to speed.