Harris Eisenstadt tried out a new configuration on a warm Sunday night at Rocco’s. With a dismal turn out made up of a few friends and three sleeping Germans, the quartet blazed through three pieces of focused yet far-reaching improvisations. The versatile and imaginative Eisenstadt possesses enough eclectic background and technique to excel in any unit. His use of extended techniques and radical textures always came in service to the overall sound and never called attention to themselves. Clearly his three bandmates had his full attention. The smiles and acknowledgements between all four musicians confirmed the impression of tight interplay within freedom.
Reedman Jason Mears had a good night. A frequent collaborator with Eisenstadt, Mears played boldly on his usual alto and brought along the clarinet and shinai to spice up the stew. San Diego based contra bassist Scott Walton has performed with Bobby Bradford, Anthony Davis, Quincy Troupe, John Carter, John Abercrombie, and Wadada Leo Smith. He combined extended technique and excellent technique to add unexpected voicings.
When not teaching at CalArts, the widely traveled Mark Trayle uses re-engineered consumer products and cultural artifacts as interfaces for electronic music performances and networked media installations. Trayle created interstellar landscapes with Wadada Leo Smith on the “Light Upon Light” album. He played on a tablet running through a Mac laptop and a small soundboard with a pen sized wand. By mimicking the action of drawing he coaxed catalogues of sounds and samples into swirling ceiling speakers.
Their adventurous set began with Harris and Mark, Trayle sending a wide variety of tones and textures around the room. Mears entered with an extended flutter of low tones on the alto. Walton tore into a paroxysm of plucking, played off Harris, and then joined Jason for a duet section. Mears improvised a strong lengthy statement, listened a bit, then returned with multi-voiced clarinet and circular breathing. During passages, Eisenstadt manipulated small towels over drum surfaces and cymbals as mutes.
Trayle opened the second piece creating percussive effects and voice samples. With mallets and brushes, Eisenstadt returned volley and the two improvised rhythms. Mears worked with a small wood flute, and Walton’s earthy bass grounds the ensemble. Walton and Mears again duet, then Walton soloed, tearing at the bass. Mears flew in on alto, and with Harris the trio cooks. Mark introduced zingy sounds, then the band simmered down to Mears and Walton once again. Eisenstadt and Trayle went at it one last time, Harris playing bare handed. Their final exploration had Mears on shinai in duet with Trayle who sounded like the pipers of Joujouka. Eisenstadt seamlessly integrated using brushes and hands. Eventually Eisenstadt and Walton played a duet and Mears returned to clarinet. Trayle introduced a sound like a large piece of metal being kicked around. The quartet then took it out together.
Unfortunately, almost all of Los Angeles missed a live golden reminder that the best players are the best listeners.