Harris Eisenstadt – Recent Developments –  Songlines

by | Jul 25, 2017 | Jazz CD Reviews

Harris Eisenstadt – Recent Developments [TrackList follows] – Songlines SGL 1620-1, 41:07 [3/10/17] ****:

On his latest outing, drummer Harris Eisenstadt once again defies easy categorization and classification.

(Anna Webber – flute; Sara Schoenbeck – bassoon; Nate Wooley – trumpet; Jeb Bishop – trombone; Dan Peck – tuba; Brandon Seabrook – banjo; Hank Roberts – cello; Eivind Opsvik – bass; Harris Eisenstadt – drums, compositions)

On the 41-minute Recent Developments, composer/drummer Harris Eisenstadt redefines what ‘recent’ and ‘development’ can mean. Yes, this is new, recent music, the material develops over the album’s course, and the CD expresses Eisenstadt’s continuing artistic development. But Eisenstadt deliberately shows there’s more going on. For example, Eisenstadt merges older jazz elements with forward-thinking elements. During the 14 open-minded tracks, Eisenstadt blends contemporary, 21st century music with instruments typically thought of in context with jazz’s younger decades (such as tuba and banjo, or a muted trumpet), as well as instruments not often found in jazz (such as bassoon and cello). Eisenstadt also allots space for his nonet to develop their own musical identity via improvisation, as well as several interludes for duo and different groupings, which focus on specific instruments.

Eisenstadt should be better known to jazz fans. His relative obscurity belies his talents, his large discography (Recent Developments is Eisenstadt’s 20th release as a leader) and his myriad musical approaches (he’s derived inspiration from West African and Afro-Cuban music, the philosophy of Gandhi, and Arnold Schoenberg’s classical music ideas). Eisenstadt’s nonet features new musical allies as well as those who have collaborated with Eisenstadt in the past. Trumpeter Nate Wooley, bassist Eivind Opsvik, Dan Peck (tuba) and trombonist Jeb Bishop have all recorded on previous Eisenstadt projects. New to this album are bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck, saxophonist Anna Webber, banjoist Brandon Seabrook, and cellist Hank Roberts.

Compositionally, Eisenstadt treats Recent Developments as a long-form work. There is an introduction, a prologue, several interludes, six formalized parts, and an epilogue. Although there are breaks between the 14 tracks, the entire 41-minute record should be listened to in order to appreciate the continuity, the flow and the connections among the tunes. The 26-second “Introduction” is a bassoon/flute duet; the 57-second “Prologue” is a bass-heavy and reflective cut with tuba, cello and whispery percussion. Group partnership occurs with the 6:33 “Part 1,” a slowly-evolving piece where the horns complement each other in a slight swirl of brass; Seabrook, Opsvik and Eisenstadt lay down a subtle, moving rhythmic foundation; and Wooley provides a rising trumpet solo. There is a splatter of dissonance and free improvisation near the conclusion of “Part 1” which gives a modernistic mannerism. The 6:27 “Part 2” adheres to a related path, although the pacing is close to frenetic at times, and there is a looser usage of melodicism and a heightened sense of discord, particularly from Seabrook, who turns his banjo into a staccato and prickly instrument. Trombonist Bishop is spotlighted on the three-minute “Part 3,” where he presents a sizzling, smeared solo, while the rhythm team offers shifting percussive elements. The 5:15 “Part 4” balances old jazz with new jazz. Peck’s tuba has a New Orleans, second-line synthesis, and during the first half the drums, tuba and bass sustain a methodical rhythmic base. But then there are twitchy areas where flute, cello and banjo collide and construct a conflict of notes and noises. The shortest part is the 2:53 “Part 6,” which echoes “Part 4,” where a lyrical core is created by Robert’s beautifully-toned cello; there is a swinging rhythmic realization and a full-group interaction that is the most fun-drenched on the album.

The much briefer interludes impart divergent music. “Interlude (group 1),” for instance, is two minutes of clash and skirmish which fades at the end (indicating it might have been a longer improvisation and was edited). A comparable disharmony permeates the 1:20 “Interlude (group 2).” The 1:40 “Interlude (quartet)” includes bassoon, cello, banjo and tuba and has an askew aspect with traces of neo-classicism. The shimmering 29-second “Interlude (duo)” is a pastoral duet of trombone and cello. On the other hand, the other “Interlude (duo)” is all friction between tension-tinted banjo and Schoenbeck’s equally chafing bassoon. Recent Developments finishes with the ethereal “Epilogue,” where Opsvik’s introductory bass establishes the piece’s gauzy and painterly characteristics.

Eisenstadt’s newest release won’t appeal to all jazz and/or improvisational tastes. He has not built an ensemble which sounds like a conventional jazz group which swings, bops or maintains a predictable progression. The music doesn’t defer to, or reside in, a single jazz sub-genre nor does Eisenstadt craft music with high amounts of expectation, except if a listener has none.

Part 1
Interlude (Group 1)
Part 2
Interlude (Quartet)
Part 3
Interlude (Duo)
Part 4
Interlude (Group 2)
Part 5
Interlude (Duo)
Part 6

—Doug Simpson

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