How do you pass the tedium of a long haul flight? Catch up on sleep, or take in those films you meant to watch but never got round to viewing? Few of us spend the time as productively as Canadian drummer Harris Eisenstadt
who sketched out the main elements of his Recent Developments
suite on the return home from tour. In spite of the prosaic titling the performance by a stellar nine strong band more than matches the standard set by his other larger works, such as Canada Day Octet
(482 Music, 2012), and the wonderful Woodblock Prints
(No Business, 2010).
While the descriptive titles telegraph a spare skeletal framework, the musical flesh they embody is rich and wide-ranging. Even though the multiple parts are divided by silence, they still form a cohesive whole. Eisenstadt separates his primary themes and variations with interludes for different subsets of his group. As a result exploratory outings by the likes of guitarist, but here banjoist, Brandon Seabrook
and trumpeter Nate Wooley
, rub shoulders with tight unisons, hocketed phrases and atmospheric ensemble improvs in a compellingly arranged narrative arc.
Eisenstadt first introduces his main theme in "Part 1" via a jaunty but reserved tattoo with an African lilt. Trilling banjo, contrapuntal horns and Anna Webber
's floating flute open out for Wooley's muted trumpet. What materializes is just one of many highpoints as trumpet and drums begin a duet which finds the trumpeter adding and subtracting his mute, before going into skronky breath exhalations and an intricately machined rollercoaster of an excursion.
Featured on "Part 2," Seabrook sounds as if he is detuning his banjo, and then trying to extract recalcitrant fragments from the guts of the instrument as he strums and picks. Subsequent parts showcase Jeb Bishop
's chuckling trombone and Webber's fluttering waves among others. "Part 5" brings a slower version of thematic material leading to a threnody for Sara Schoenbeck
's bassoon tinged with struggle and hope, against swelling chorus, before ending with a crisp yet free wheeling drum solo. On "Part 6" Wooley ushers in a triumphant feel before Hank Roberts
's folky tinged dancing cello melody, backed by layers of singing lines, ends the piece with a flourish.
While Eisenstadt lists his inspirations as including Jane Jacob's seminal book The Death And Life Of Great American Cities
, The Sopranos TV series, and Moroccan Berber rugs, he claims no programmatic intent. However the final "Epilogue" with Eivind Opsvik
's grave unaccompanied pizzicato bass meditation, followed by a shift to deep groaning arco and a minor key theme rendition like a distant echo of good times, suggests that the suite could also be interpreted as encapsulating nothing less than life itself. But whatever the reading the album stands as a stunning and thought provoking achievement.