Harris Eisenstadt: Canada Day Octet (2012)
Drummer/composer Harris Eisenstadt has developed into one of the most imaginative writers on the scene for larger ensembles. On Canada Day Octet, he presents the latest installment following on from such larger scale works as All Seeing Eye + Octets (Poo-bah, 2007), and the wonderful Woodblock Prints (No Business, 2010). But this time, the difference is that at the core of his eight-strong group are the members of his regular working band, Canada Day, familiar with both his materials and methods. The expanded lineup affords more scope for richer harmonies and added layers of counterpoint, as well as extending the range both upwards, with Jason Mears' sinuous alto saxophone, and down with Dan Peck's growling tuba, while also thickening the middle with Ray Anderson's boisterous trombone.
Eisenstadt's compositions, with their complex but unforced use of varying rhythmic devices to demarcate alluring melodic materials, serve as vehicles not for blowing, but for individual vignettes which craftily extend the chart's parameters to include dissonance and out of tempo extemporization. While none of the tunes here are quite as gorgeous as some of the Canadian's previous efforts (particularly on Woodblock Prints), they are still far more attractive and listenable than your average modern jazz workhorse.
Eisenstadt is prominent only on the intro to "The Ombudsman 1," but his concept courses through this project like electricity through copper wire. After a hocketed melody shared between the horns, come a series of solos introducing the new arrivals, each enjoying different backing arrangements. Anderson convinces as blustery but convivial, while Mears' muscular alto becomes fractious. A probing duet for tuba and Garth Stevenson's bowed bass finally gives way to a free form colloquy of chattering horns to take the piece out. Each cut is similarly diverse. Matt Bauder's chameleon-like tenor saxophone is all smoky insouciance on the Americana meets South African hymn of "The Ombudsman 2" while Chris Dingman's vibes revel in shimmering reverb. Trumpeter Nate Wooley sounds as if he has wandered in from a totally unrelated session as he introduces "The Ombudsman 3" with a fluttering circular breathed buzz. Later, his return takes lyrical flight over a lush undercurrent of horns, vibes and rhythm. "Ballad for 10.6.7" waltzes this fine disc to an opulent conclusion, with Anderson's luscious trombone obligato soaring over the aching theme.
In the liners, Eisenstadt visualizes the Ombudsman as mediating between those who like creative music and those who are mystified by it. That could stand as an epigram for all the drummer's work: endless ways of deriving elegant solutions to the inside out conundrum.
Track Listing: The Ombudsman 1; The Ombudsman 2; The Ombudsman 3; The Ombudsman 4; Ballad for 10.6.7.
Personnel: Nate Wooley: trumpet; Ray Anderson: trombone; Dan Peck: tuba; Jason Mears: alto saxophone; Matt Bauder: tenor saxophone; Chris Dingman: vibraphone; Garth Stevenson: bass; Harris Eisenstadt: drum, compositions.