African referents in jazz are nothing new. Second Line Congolese rhythms crop up in the earliest New Orleans street music and syncopation lies at the root of pioneering ragtime. Drummers from Dodds to Blakey to Drake have been incorporating these patterns and practices for the better part of a century. As with any other facet of the jazz idiom the challenge comes in discovering new applications for the already found. Harris Eisenstadt, by my admittedly fuzzy reckoning a Los Angeles resident by way of Toronto, appears to recognize this continuum. Fresh from a two- month stint studying percussion in Gambia, Eisenstadt, having caught the ear of CIMP producer Bob Rusch, organized this date.
A glimpse at the gallery of instruments immediately reveals its "out of the ordinary" nature'three brass players, a reedsmith and drum kit, but not just any three brass. Smoker, Campbell and Bynum represent a troika of generations and sit comfortably as gifted brass improvisors with highly distinctive vernaculars. Laster may be the odd man out in the horn section, but he holds his own. With Eisenstadt's drums as the sole conventional rhythmic source it often falls on his shoulders to shore up the gaps with cyclic honks and percussive embouchure effects.
The tunes for the date are all originals, influenced by Eisenstadt's desire to incorporate an African style of horn-drum music called hocketing into a Western improvisatory ensemble setting. Translating the tactic can be tricky. Often, Laster will set up a bleating repetitive riff, answered by the brass at various intervals and the leader's cadence-heavy beats. A telegraphic sort of interplay ensues where one horn will start the process and the others will inject their own personal variations in a round robin overlapping lines. Themes surface and recede, but a rough rhythmic sense remains a near constant, even the during the most rambunctious of exchanges between the horns, of which there are many. Sometimes, as on 'Seruba' where Laster and Smoker suss each other out in an overlapping stutter of notes, the quintet is slow in setting the stage. These gradual starts make the entrance of Eisenstadt's funky, frolicsome rhythms all the more galvanizing.
Also enlivening is the manner in which the pieces encourage each man to accentuate the eccentricities of his method of articulation. Bynum resorts to gurgling geysers on 'Boogie On Lenjeno' contrasting with Campbell's stentorian notes, which fall with the feathery near weightlessness of punch card chads. Toward the close the tune the three engage Laster in a loquacious banter of whinnies, snorts, sputters and whispers. Multiple takes of 'Seruba' and 'Jumpin' In' further illustrate the band's workshop approach to tune-smithing.
One minor quibble: Smoker and Campbell are positioned very close to one another in the right channel. While their singular tones and phrasing are usually easy to differentiate, there are points where the proximity becomes a detriment, especially filtered through standard stereo speakers. The tonal bleeding is hardly profuse, however, and the perspicacity of the music more than offsets any extra effort in telling the two apart. Eisenstadt and his wholly personalized assimilation of African influences are definitely worth a listen.
Track Listing: Boogie on Lenjeno; Seruba (take 2); Mwindo; Go (for Adam Rudolph); Jumpin? In (for Eric
Dolphy); Seruba (take 1); Ahimsa (Non-Violence) #2; Jumpin? In (for Eric Dolphy) (take 2).
Recorded: October 27 & 28, 2003, Rossie, NY.
Personnel: Harris Eisentadt: drums; Andy Laster: clarinet, baritone saxophone; Roy Campbell:
trumpet, pocket trumpet, flugelhorn; Paul Smoker: trumpet; Taylor Ho Bynum: cornet.
I was first exposed to jazz while working overseas in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I would listen to the Voice of America on the radio and they had a nightly jazz program on at 10:00pm. I learned a lot about jazz listening to this program. I also had a friend who listened to real jazz by artists like Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy and Archie Shepp. On my way home from Africa I landed in New York and had the opportunity to see the George Adams/Don Pullen quartet at the Village Vanguard as well as Kenny Barron and Ron Carter at another club, and was in heaven.