Harris Eisenstadt – “Ups and Downs” (Canada Day, CF 157)
Canada Day is the name of drummer Harris Eisenstadt’s working band, a quintet filled out by trumpeter Nate Wooley, tenor saxophonist Matt Bauder, vibes player Chris Dingman and bassist Eivind Opsvik. The material on the group’s self-titled album is as exciting as it is diverse, with any clichés about group telepathy sounding entirely appropriate.
The heads of these eight Eisenstadt originals show a composer in full flight. Powerful chromatic unisons inform “After an Outdoor Bath”’s first section but are replaced by punchy octaves as the tune shifts from semi-stasis to a swinging groove. By contrast, “And When to Come Back” involves initial swatches of colored sonority as trumpet, saxophone and vibes weave lines into expansive harmonies. Each compositional element returns at some point during the song, but not in a head/solo/head fashion. Rhythms reappear at different tempos. Wooley and Bauder re-inject the melody seemingly on a whim. Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter’s 1960s output is a definite influence, but the vibes lend transparency to the sound and free the others to explore more disparate harmonic regions.
A lot of ground has been covered since 1965, and each soloist brings a broad vocabulary to the table. Bauder and Wooley have always immersed themselves in projects that blend composition and improvisation in innovative ways, and their playing reflects multiple traditions. Each is well known for “New Thing” squall and energy, but here, their solos veer between lyricism and controlled fire with uncanny speed. Bauder’s solo on the contrapuntally complex “Ups and Downs” switches suddenly but subtly from Shorter-esque motivic interjections to Archie Shepp’s multi-phonic honks. Similarly, “Every Day is Canada Day” finds Wooley emitting the soft glow of early Miles until he brings his voice into the equation, filling a long note with rasp and flutter before a startling inter-registral glissando. Opsvik gets little solo room, but he’s a rhythmically inventive and melodically tasteful player who knows the value of space and dynamics. The same can be said of Dingman’s approach; each timely note or sonority shimmers and fades.
Then, there’s Eisenstadt, whose timbral invention is matched by his penchant for rhythmic subversion. He’s equally facile with brushes and sticks, sometimes making it difficult to tell which is which. In the Tony Williams tradition (but not a slave to it), he sets up a pulse or groove only to shake it loose and discard it, the sudden dynamic shifts keeping every gesture fresh. Precision and spontaneity make every gesture simultaneously soloistic and supportive as the structures wend their complex but catchy ways forward. He’s the lynchpin of an exciting aggregate.
Harris Eisenstadt – Canada Day (CF 157)
A consummate example of the traveling musician, Canadian-born composer/percussionist Harris Eisenstadt’s journeys have taken him from a long-term residency on the West Coast (with frequent trips to Chicago) to multiple trips abroad to study drumming in West Africa before relocating to New York. The majority of Eisenstadt’s releases have been documents of singular projects; ad-hoc ensembles that, despite their excellence, have never been given the time to properly develop. Canada Day is the self-titled debut album of the quintet he founded in 2005—the first time Eisenstadt has been able to record such a longstanding ensemble.
Drawing upon some of the best new talent in the Brooklyn scene, Eisenstadt’s formidable quintet is as capable of adventurous timbral explorations as they are of in-the-pocket swing. Unswerving bassist Eivind Opsvik and vibraphonist Chris Dingman assist Eisenstadt in supporting the fervid front-line of tenor saxophonist Matt Bauder and trumpeter Nate Wooley. A magnanimous leader, Eisenstadt eschews unaccompanied soloing entirely on this date, leaving ample room for his sidemen, including his rhythm section partners. Dingman’s effervescent cadences and Opsvik’s melodious phrasing play pivotal roles in the group’s evocative sound.
Blending a mid-’60s Blue Note vibe with elastic post-rock grooves and subtle West African influences, Eisenstadt successfully unites his assorted interests into a cohesive ensemble sound. Offering subtle variations on melody, harmony, rhythm and texture, he encapsulates the vastness of Canada in each piece, all dedicated to his native land. The moody “Halifax” unfolds as a slow rubato dirge, spotlighting Bauder’s garrulous tenor eruptions, while Wooley’s lyrical variations and Dingman’s cascading accents infuse the cinematic tone poem “Every Day Is Canada Day” with ethereal plangency. Opsvik’s melodious bass solo is the centerpiece of “And When To Come Back,” with Dingman’s ebullient spree elevating the jaunty opener, “Don’t Gild The Lilly.”
Bauder and Wooley are dynamic performers with a predilection for the outer realms of sound. Bauder’s multiphonic glisses on “Halifax” and Wooley’s coruscating half-valve smears on the angular “After An Outdoor Bath” push the limits of tonality without abandoning basic melody or harmony. Though no one musician dominates the proceedings, Wooley’s muted discourse on “Don’t Gild The Lilly” is a tour de force of controlled abstraction. An impressive master of textural manipulation, he joins Taylor Ho Bynum, Peter Evans and Rob Mazurek as another remarkable disciple of the legendary trumpeter Bill Dixon.
An accessible blend of inside and outside traditions delivered by an empathetic young ensemble, Canada Day is a welcome addition to the burgeoning discography of one of the new generation’s leading composers.