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Harris Eisenstadt: Full Steam Ahead

James Pearse By

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As well as three current working (and touring) ensembles, a busy recording schedule and a flourishing teaching career, Toronto, Canada-born percussionist/composer Harris Eisenstadt is also a family man. Now settled in New York City, it's been a busy year, with four recordings-September Trio (Clean Feed, 2011), Canada Day III (Songlines, 2012), Canada Day II (Songlines, 2011), Canada Day Octet (482 Music, 2012)-all released within the last twelve months or so; a release schedule rivaled only by guitarist Bill Frisell and pianist Chick Corea.

All About Jazz: You have three working ensembles: a quintet, a trio and also a new quartet. How do you compose for each ensemble and differ how you play?

Harris Eisenstadt: My primary working group since 2007 has been Canada Day, the quintet. We've released four records (three quintets and an octet version) over the last several years on Clean Feed, Songlines and 482 Music.

My trio is September Trio. Our first record came in out in 2011 and we'll record our second CD at the end of the current tour in Portugal. It will be released in spring, 2013 on Clean Feed.

My third current ensemble is new and doesn't have a name yet. It came about because I'm teaching at Calarts in Southern California in November [2012] and, while I'm out there, I'll do some concerts with [bassoonist] Sara Schoenbeck, [bassist] Mark Dresser and [flautist] Nicole Mitchell. We'll play in Los Angeles and at UC Irvine, do a workshop, and then record for Songlines, which I am looking forward to very much.

The compositions for Canada Day are generally more structured, from section to section, than some of the September Trio pieces, which are more open. There's openness in each group, but generally speaking Canada Day is more structured compositionally. I am not quite sure what the music will be like for the quartet. I've just started sketching the music. Canada Day is perhaps more explicitly groove-oriented. September Trio has a lot of textural, open improvisation and non-metrical moments, but these are generalizations. In terms of timbre, the quartet music will be quite different due to the instrumentation. I've included a flute and bassoon instead of saxophones and brass, which will give things a more chamber music-like vibe. I'm not sure my playing changes from ensemble to ensemble. In each case my goal is to be a sensitive and dynamic accompanist, soloist and ensemble member.

AAJ: Since All About Jazz last spoke to you in 2010, you have taken part in a number of recordings. Is there anything special you remember about each one?

AAJ: Jeremiah Cymerman Fire Sign (Tzadik, 2011)

HE: I am on one track on this recording from a concert at Roulette, probably in 2010. It was an ensemble piece with [trumpeter] Nate Wooley, [bassist] Tom Blancarte,[trombonist Sam Kulik, [cellist] Christopher Hoffmanand Jeremiah. I played gongs, vibraphone, floor tom and small percussion. It was a very textural percussion part as I recall. Jeremiah then processed the piece with electronics and the instrumental parts are barely discernible. Typical Cymerman mayhem!

AAJ: Jessica Pavone Army of Strangers (Porter, 2011)

HE: This group worked from 2009-2011, with Jonti Siman on electric bass and first Brandon Seabrook than Pete Fitzpatrick on electric guitar. We recorded at East Side Sound-a studio on the Lower East Side with a great engineer, Marc Urselli. Afterwards, we played at the Saalfelden Festival and that was the last concert for the group. Pete Fitzpatrick moved to northern California and [violist] Jessica Pavone has been working on solo material and playing in a rock band.

AAJ: Harris Eisenstadt September Trio (Clean Feed, 2011)

HE: This is with [saxophonist] Ellery Eskelin and [pianist] Angelica Sanchez. We first played an improvised first at (saxophonist/composer John Zorn's New York City club) The Stone some years ago...2009, I think, which went very nicely. Pedro Costa from Clean Feed then invited us to play again when he was asked to curate The Stone in summer, 2010. I decided to make the trio my group and write for us. We recorded six months or a year later. We rehearsed, played a couple of concerts than went into Systems Two and made the record in six hours.

AAJ: Nate Wooley Quintet (Put Your) Hands Together (Clean Feed, 2011)

HE: This band has been really a joy and a constant in my sideman activities for three or four years. Nate is a close musical and personal compatriot and one of my most simpatico musical colleagues. We recorded this album at (Brooklyn's) Systems Two and it came out on Clean Feed. We are getting ready to record his next one for Clean Feed in December. We'll do a four-night residency at Douglass Street Music Collective and then go into Water Music (Hoboken, NJ), the studio where we recorded Canada Day III and [clarinetist] François Houle 5+1's Genera.

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