Carnival Skin: Carnival Skin (2006)
Strong starts do not always ensure steady recording schedules. Jersey-based guitarist Bruce Eisenbeil experienced just such a surcease after a trio of laudable releases for CIMP. This new collective quintet recording on drummer Klaus Kugel's Nemu imprint puts him back in the record shop racks after a hiatus of several years. The band's name is something of a cipher. Its music is less crypticpassionately concocted free jazz played with a strong, but never stolid, consensus of purpose.
Veteran bassist Hill Greene joins Kugel in providing the ensemble's engine. His stout strings, swollen by amplification, gird the sound floor like trunks of tall timber. Kugel is a mercurial stimulus behind his kit, deploying the same degree of focused energy he applied recently to the bands of saxophonist James Finn, whether by building walls of frothing rhythm or by easing back into a colorful accent mode. The front line of Perry Robinson and Peter Evans, the latter doubling on piccolo trumpet, an instrument new to me, further diversifies the proceedings. This is definitely a group were variance of experience and style work as core virtues.
Reflective of the shared leadership, the program includes a composition apiece from each player and concludes with the sharp-toothed collective improvisation of the title cut. Robinson's "Journey to the Strange weaves slivers of Ornette and Monk into a playfully spun free bop braid that runs from prickly and frayed to strenuously swinging. Eisenbeil fills the space between Evans and Robinson solos with one of his signature arpeggiated blizkriegs, bent smoking notes raining in droves. Evans' "Monster opens as a slowly loping blues only to erupt at periodic points with blasts of communal dissonance.
Greene's "Iono belongs to a improvisatory lineage that includes Coltrane's "Spiritual and Sonny Sharrock's "Many Mansions, a power dirge steeped in pathos-driven overtones. Eisenbeil again steals the spotlight, his jagged hammering blues chords echoing the sort of controlled chaos pioneered by Sharrock, while the others build a swirling funnel of sound that builds to a crescendoing climax. Kugel's "Bobosong and Eisenbeil's "Diagonal People progress through dynamic shifts that stretch from passages of somber quiet to flareups of explosive jangling catharsis.
It's unclear whether this group will be an ongoing outlet for these players' creative energies, but based on the merits of their union, future albums seem like requisite ventures. Either way, it's good to have Eisenbeil back on discthough, as he'll probably be the first to admit, he never really left.
Track Listing: Journey to Strange; Monster; Iono; Bobosong; Diagonal People; Carnival Skin.
Personnel: Bruce Eisenbeil: guitar; Klaus Kugel: drums; Perry Robinson: clarinet; Peter Evans: trumpet, piccolo trumpet; Hillard Greene: double bass. (Recorded April 2005, NYC.)