Harris Eisenstadt: Tiebreaker & Guewel

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Jeb Bishop / Harris Eisenstadt / Jason Roebke
Not Two

Harris Eisenstadt
Clean Feed

Peripatetic drummer Harris Eisenstadt seems to be a man constantly on the move. Canadian by birth, American by residence—first on the East coast, then the West Coast, then back—with musical trips to Europe and Africa, Eisenstadt is a true world citizen. These travels have informed his music in obvious and not-so-obvious ways and his discography has developed into a diverse and fascinating catalogue with one never knowing quite what to expect from his next release. The two recordings considered here are cases in point.

The trio featured on Tiebreaker finds Eisenstadt collaborating with two Chicago-based players— trombonist Jeb Bishop and bassist Jason Roebke—with collaborate being the operative word. The music comes from a set recorded in 2006 at a club in Krakow, Poland. All three players contribute compositions and it is a cooperative trio in the true jazz sense. After the relatively brief jaunty opener "Round Two," the band settles in for the long haul with a nearly 40-minute medley that incorporates four compositions and wends its way through a variety of moods and tempos. Although it seems like there might be a sonically limited palette to this trio, that is not the case; each player plays the complete range of his instrument. Special mention has to be made of Bishop's particularly effective mute, particularly on Eisenstadt's "How Are You Dear" and bassist Roebke's "Northstar," the two ballads that end the medley, which invests both lovely melodies with all sorts of tonal and timbral variations. This is a trio of players very much in sync with each other whether driving down the center with some straight jazz or opening up into free territory.

Guewel is quite a bit different. It's a sequel to Eisenstadt's 2003 release Jalolu (both mean "griot" in their respective countries of Senegal and Gambia). Jalolu was scored for three trumpets, baritone sax and drums with Eisenstadt adapting traditional songs and drum patterns native to the Gambian village where he lived. In 2006, Eisenstadt returned to Africa, this time to bustling Dakar in Senegal. He became immersed in Sabar drumming as well as Mbalax, the popular music of the country. (This is the scene from which Youssou N'dour emerged.) In each of Guewel's pieces, there is a melody inserted into the composition proper that's been adapted from popular Mbalax material (from recordings by Orchestra Baobob, Super Diamono and others). What is most impressive about this appropriation is how well and how uniquely this material is integrated. Eisenstadt's original themes tend to have almost a fanfare-like quality with unusual, Morse code-like rhythmic patterns. These are opened up for improvisation with occasional riffs coming from the other horns. At times the music will be developing at a frenetic clip when seemingly out of nowhere a harmonized melody emerges that fits perfectly over the proceedings. It's an attractive and alluring mix.

For this disc the instrumentation has changed slightly. There are two trumpets (with Taylor Ho Bynum returning from the Jalolu sessions to play against Nate Wooley) and Josh Sinton's baritone sax. But Mark Taylor's French horn has replaced the third trumpet. This serves the purpose of fleshing out the sound of the brass section, adding a different timbre that provides more sonic depth. Guewel expands on the concepts of Jalolu and shows Eisenstadt to be one of the most creative and skilled musician/composers incorporating traditional material to create new and vital improvised music.

Tracks and Personnel


Tracks: Round Two; Jacket Weather—Double Dog—How Are You Dear—Northstar; Mastertaker; Piggly Wiggly

Personnel: Jeb Bishop: trombone; Jason Roebke: bass; Harris Eisenstadt: drums.


Tracks: N'daga—Coonu Aduna; Kaolak—N'Wolof; Dayourabine—Thiolena; Baramboye—Djarama; Rice And Fish—Liiti Liiti.

Personnel: Taylor Ho Bynum: cornet, flugelhorn; Nate Wooley: trumpet; Mark Taylor: french horn; Josh Sinton: baritone saxophone; Harris Eisenstadt: drums.

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