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Harris Eisenstadt: Canada Day II

John Sharpe By

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Are life events audible in music? They would certainly seem to be in the case of Canadian drummer/composer Harris Eisenstadt. Half the tracks on Canada Day II were composed around the time of his son's birth. One track is dedicated to his youngster, and the genesis of two others was related to public schools, so Eisenstadt wanted the cover to recall childhood summers at camp. In fact, there is a pervasive brightness and childlike innocence to much of this second offering from the drummer's Canada Day ensemble, representing a subtle but noticeable evolution from their more edgy eponymous debut (Clean Feed, 2008).

It's almost a critical knee-jerk reaction to suggest that any group sporting vibes in place of piano—Chris Dingman, this time out—evokes those 1960s Blue Note sides featuring Bobby Hutcherson, but Eisenstadt's band does that, and more. At the same time as fitting smoothly within the contemporary mainstream in terms of melodic invention and rhythmic sophistication, the twin horns of saxophonist Matt Bauder and trumpeter Nate Wooley also stretch convention, sometimes near the breaking point.

Bauder emanates authority across a range of styles, moving assuredly from breathy Ben Webster-isms to controlled post-John Coltrane over-blowing. The one constant that remains is the unexpected twists and turns in his unconventional phrasing. Wooley constitutes a good foil, often staying within the harmonic contours of a piece, only for his tone to splinter and fray into noise: his fast spluttering solo on the multisectioned "To See/Tootie" providing a perfect example. In spite of his leadership mantle, Eisenstadt stays largely in the shadows, stepping out only in the tumbling intro to the opening "Cobble Hook." But, together with Eivind Opsvik, he maintains an elegant control, speeding or retarding tempo in a relaxed but wiry swing. Dingman's bright chiming runs color the ensembles, crashing in waves, but sometimes, as in "Judo For Tokyo Joe (for John Zorn)" recalling the percussive ring of steel pans in an Americana-tinged setting.

By now it should be no surprise that the drummer pens such lovely themes: both "To Seventeen" and, particularly, the sweet "Song For Owen (for Owen Eisenstadt)" inspire lilting reveries from the horns. It's not a universally sunny outlook: "Now Longer" is jarring and vaguely menacing, while "To Eh" conjures a melancholic folksy feel. But taken as a whole, Canada Day II delivers a fine set of tunes to hum along to, that still snap the synapses.

Track Listing: Cobble Hook; To Seventeen; Song For Owen (for Owen Eisenstadt); Now Longer; To Eh; To Be;To See/Tootie; Judo For Tokyo Joe (for John Zorn).

Personnel: Nate Wooley: trumpet; Matt Bauder: tenor saxophone; Chris Dingman: vibraphone; Eivind Opsvik: bass; Harris Eisenstadt: drums, compositions.

Title: Canada Day II | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Songlines Recordings

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