Harris Eisenstadt and September Trio – The Destructive Element – Clean Feed CF276, 49:26 [6/18/13] ****:

(Harris Eisenstadt – drums; Angelica Sanchez – piano; Ellery Eskelin – tenor saxophone)

Portugal’s 12-year-old, avant-leaning Clean Feed label has an eclectic release roster which ranges from historical (a 1972 live Steve Lacy CD) to anthologies (the ongoing I Never Meta Guitar series organized by Elliott Sharp), and a lot of free jazz/avant-garde material. One versatile performer who has taken advantage of Clean Feed’s distribution and promotion is drummer Harris Eisenstadt, and his September Trio, with pianist Angelica Sanchez and tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin. Eisenstadt has a multidisciplinary approach which comprises jazz, creative improvisation, African music ensembles and additional musical areas. He earned a B.A. cum laude in literature and music in 1988 from Maine’s Colby College, received a Masters in Fine Arts from the California Institute of the Arts in 2001, and has played with an assortment of artists, including Yusef Lateef, Vinny Golia, Bennie Maupin, Wayne Horvitz, Nels Cline and others. He has worked in the theatre world and composed for indie and mainstream movies. Sanchez is an equally free-form player, who has collaborated with Wadada Leo Smith, teamed with her husband Tony Malaby, and has a string of solo records on Clean Feed. Eskelin has long been a mainstay of the East Coast improv scene, has over 20 albums to his name, and contributed to studio outings by David Liebman, John Hollenbeck and many more.

Eisenstadt’s nine originals vary from lyrical ballads to long-form pieces colored by classical music, and compositions influenced by Japanese film and English literature. Eisenstadt initially penned the short title track for voice and piano, but Eskelin’s warm full-bodied tenor nicely translates the tune’s emotionalism into a horn-driven discourse. The cut was inspired by Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim, which Eisenstadt studied in university: as Sanchez and Eskelin stream through the poignant melody, one can sense Conrad’s experiential contentions concerning the conjoining of joy and sorrow. Someone else who understood adversity, sadness and hopefulness was composer Arnold Schoenberg. During two related pieces, Eisenstadt echoes Schoenberg’s somber tones and optimistic reflections, with distinctively avant-garde sounds. The lengthy “From Schoenberg, Part One” borrows from Schoenberg’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, but in ways which may shock tradition-biased, classical music listeners. Eisenstadt’s roving percussion layers and rhythmic elements are far removed from European classical idioms, while Eskelin’s independently-inclined horn engages spontaneously with harmony and melody. Sanchez builds tension as she moves from chords to single-note stabs, and erects ebb and flow during a demanding sax/piano combination. The terser “From Schoenberg, Part Two,” which comes near the program’s conclusion, maintains a similar expression, while Eskelin develops a repeating phrase which is cornered and then altered by Sanchez, while Eisenstadt adds skittish percussion as bedrock. Conveying music as being cinematic has become a cliché, but that’s the feeling one gets from hearing “Here Are the Samurai,” a tense track prompted by a key incident in Akira Kurasawa’s enduring motion picture, Yojimbo, when Japanese sword-wielders walk into a village. The tune has rolling percussion and a portentous escalation, with reiterating and twisting sections where the sax and piano confront each other, seek the upper hand, and then unify in a heated dialogue. By the end, the clashing samurai in the village streets are vividly portrayed by the increased tempo. Further cuts might lack interesting background stories, but are also vibrant examples of Eisenstadt’s compositional forms, from the hectic “Additives” to the classically-tinged “Cascadia,” which hints at European Romanticism. The recording process is as dynamic as the music, with evocative audio which captures the trio’s sonic breadth, from hushed sax to dissonant percussion, and from whispered brushwork to jarring keyboard flourishes.

TrackList: Swimming, then Rained Out; Additives; From Schoenberg, Part One; Back and Forth; Ordinary Weirdness; The Destructive Element; Cascadia; From Schoenberg, Part Two; Here Are the Samurai.

—Doug Simpson