Harris Eisenstadt: Woodblock Prints (2010)
Canadian drummer/composer Harris Eisenstadt is making a compelling case for complete player status. His name on the CD sleeve does not necessarily predict the contents. Examples include his joyous marriage of jazz and West African rhythms on Jalolu (CIMP, 2004) and Gewel (Clean Feed, 2008), his compositions for large ensembles such as Ahisma Orchestra (Nine Winds, 2006), his adventurous small group writing with Canada Day (Clean Feed, 2009) and The Soul and Gone (482 Music, 2005), and not least his work as an improvisor in collectives such as The Zone with trombonist Paul Rutherford (Konnex, 2006). Now he has drawn some of those disparate elements together in a set which ranks among his very best.
Woodblock Prints is a limited edition LP featuring Eisenstadt's charts for a 9 member small orchestra. Each side exhibits a pleasing symmetry, beginning with a short horn trio, then a longer cut for the full ensemble, and finally a more convoluted mid-length piece. Melodies such as "Convergence" from Live In Oxford (FMR, 2007) by the Convergence Quartet, and "Seattle" from Starmelodics (Nuscope, 2008) with Mark Dresser and Achim Kaufmann demonstrate that Eisenstadt can pen a pretty tune, but even these pieces don't prepare for the distilled beauty of the two side opening trios. "Hasui (for brass trio)," for Michael McGinnis' clarinet, Jason Mears' alto saxophone and Sara Schoenbeck's bassoon, is lush American-tinged chamber music, which might be through composed, such is its perfection. "Hiroshige (for woodwind trio)," featuring Mark Taylor's French horn, Brian Drye's trombone and Jay Rozen's tuba, is more of a stately procession, which shares some of the same melodic material.
By contrast "The Floating World" and "Hokusai" are almost blowing vehicles. On the former Schoenbeck delivers one of the loveliest bassoon solos on record (admittedly it may not be a large field) culminating in growling dissonance, while Rozen's tuba floats like a butterfly while buzzing like a bee, and McGinnis' plummy-voiced clarinet muses happily. Taylor's richly mellifluous French horn is featured heavily on the latter, alongside the skirling of the clarinet. Each track seems a continuation of the previous before taking a turn for the unexpected, so the tutti stirrings of "After Jeff Wall" pick up the finale of "The Floating World," then morph into a repeating horn ostinato. Eisenstadt manufactures odd asymmetric rhythmic pockets over which Drye's smoothly dexterous trombone pontificates. Another nimble 'bone outing graces the closing "Andrew Hill," alongside the pressing klezmer inflections of Mear's alto, before climaxing in the most strident passage of the whole disc. Though he takes a back seat instrumentally, content to color and direct, Eisenstadt's conception has produced a gem to treasure.
Track Listing: Hasui (for brass trio); The Floating World; After Jeff Wall; Hiroshige (for woodwind trio); Hokusai; Andrew Hill.
Personnel: Michael McGinnis: clarinet; Jason Mears: alto saxophone; Sara Schoenbeck: bassoon; Mark Taylor: French horn; Brian Drye: trombone; Jay Rozen: tuba; Jonathan Goldberger: electric guitar; Garth Stevenson: acoustic bass; Harris Eisenstadt: drums, composition.