January 2009

AAJ Staff By

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Harris Eisenstadt

Tightly crafted as it was, drummer Harris Eisenstadt's music at Cornelia Street Cafe (Dec. 5th) had an elusiveness, an instability, even a darkness that contrasted with his quintet's celebratory name, Canada Day (the band formed on Jul. 1st). Joined by trumpeter Nate Wooley, tenorist Matt Bauder, vibraphonist Chris Dingman and bassist Eivind Opsvik, Eisenstadt unveiled pieces he planned to record the next day—wily contrapuntal inventions, concise yet elaborated, packed with rhythmic obstacles that the band rendered as naturally as breathing. Eisenstadt swung hard with "On Her Way" and "Keep Casting Rods," his flair at the kit as effortless as it was unobtrusive. He led off with "You Have Options, I Have a Lawyer" (a Sopranos reference), sketching tense 3/4 time as the horns looped a rising two-note figure against a falling three-note bass phrase. "Halifax" and "Every Day Is Canada Day" shared a slower, looser, metrically ambiguous feel, anchored by Opsvik's well-placed lines and colored by Dingman. "And When to Come Back" and "Don't Gild the Lily," based on 11-beat structures, featured Bauder and Opsvik, respectively, to great effect. Even at its rawest, Bauder's tone has a warm and round quality, a kind of old-school depth. Wooley, too, approached the music with far-reaching expression, employing the occasional mute and letting loose when the beats ("After an Outdoor Bath," "Kate Geeper") got funky.

Jon Irabagon

After winning the 2008 Monk International Saxophone Competition, altoist Jon Irabagon had the added privilege of leading off the annual Monk in Motion series at Tribeca Performing Arts Center (Dec. 1st). Despite the accolades, Irabagon wasn't about hogging the spotlight; he was wise to grant plenty of feature space to trumpeter Brandon Lee, pianist Randy Ingram, bassist Peter Brendler and drummer Marion Felder. Playing two generous sets, the quintet brought virtuosity and collaborative spirit to Irabagon's solid but fairly restrained original pieces. "January Dream" and "The Dollhouse" recalled the wistful twilight harmony of early Wayne Shorter. "Big Jim's Twins," "Camp Douglas" and "Theme" veered closer to the irreverence Irabagon cultivates with his other projects, Outright! and Mostly Other People Do the Killing. Although his horn was over-mic'd and saddled with excess treble, Irabagon moved confidently from swing to ballads ("Distilled Hope," "Acceptance") to brisk straight-eighth tempos ("Albosis"), ending with the mysterious arpeggiations of "Closing Arguments". He broke up his boppish lines and legato cries with fluid intervallic jumps, multiphonics, glissandos and quarter-tones, giving an "outside" edge to generally straight-ahead material. Playing off a recurring syncopated beat on the "Poinciana"-inspired "Joy's Secret," he rose to a fury of cascading runs—and yet even at his wildest, he got the band to stick to him, rhythmic focus unshaken.

—David R. Adler

Dave Douglas

The house lights weren't even down yet when Luis Bonilla, Vincent Chancey and Dave Douglas took the stage, playing as they walked out before a full house at Le Poisson Rouge Dec. 9th, three different solos with Nasheet Waits' drums lightly cascading behind them until Marcus Rojas followed and set a slow line below them on tuba, bringing them all into focus. There was a fitting looseness, given that Douglas' Brass Ecstasy was founded in tribute to Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy and opening with Rufus Wainwright's "This Love Affair" was also a subtle, maybe even unintentional, way of paying homage without mimickry. The slow, New Orleans feel was an obvious nod to Bowie, as was interpreting a pop song (he famously obscured genre lines by adapting Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson for his band). Douglas is a very different player and didn't try to emulate Bowie, although there were a few pinched trumpet cries in his "Chicago Calling," a piece comprised of several marches interspersed with open sections. And Douglas' quintet was well prepared to meet the challenge: Bonilla, Chancey and Rojas all played in Bowie's mighty brass line. Waits proved again to be a remarkably steady presence—he has an amazing way of showing strength without using force. Bowie represented many things to new jazz and to "great black music" but Douglas' tribute was to Bowie the entertainer, the showstopper, the great pretender, taut arrangements played with joie de vivre.

Douglas Ewart


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