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Drummer Harris Eisenstadt's recording, Guewel, isn't jazz. That is to say, it isn't jazz in the American sense of the word but, rather, jazz in the West African musical tradition.
Eisenstadt, a Canadian-born New Yorker, is a student of the art of drumming. His two trips to Gambia and Senegal inspire this recording and his previous release, Jalolu (CIMP, 2003). He adapts traditional and popular music of Senegal within Sabar, the traditional dance and drumming styles. But putting all the ethnomusicology aside, the music heard here is very engaging and full of high-level playing. Think Art Ensemble of Chicago, toss in Kahil El Zabar and small-group Sun Ra and one gets a sense of Eisenstadt's starting point.
Eisenstadt has been playing the Sabar music for some time, and he recruits this non-chordal lineup of Josh Sinton (baritone saxophone), Mark Taylor (French horn), Nate Wooley (trumpet), and Taylor Ho Bynun (cornet) to present a small chamber marching band. Certainly these musicians aren't marching, but this music clearly represents the sound of a small village, used to mark major events like weddings, holidays, and baby-namings. It's like a high school football game with some of the hippest beats at half-time.
The disc opens with "N'daga/Coonu Aduna," an off-kilter march that morphs into a merry freeform with the horn players making bird calls and shouts of joy. While the freedom (in a jazz sense) reigns, Eisenstadt keeps true to the beat here and throughout the recording, always centering the music in the tradition.
The general pulse of this Sabar music is constant throughout. The unusual front line of baritone saxophone, trumpet, French horn, and cornet makes for a slightly offsetting approach. But each of the improvisers make it all the more interesting and ultimately deliver a very satisfying recording.