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HARRIS EISENSTADT - The Soul and Gone (482 Music) This program of solid old/new jazz is the shiny fruit basket of drumkitter Harris Eisenstadt's visit to Chicago to lead a sextet of young but accomplished musicians through the familiar and idiosyncratic twists and turns of his crafty compositions. The lineup: Jason Adasiewicz (vibraphone), Jeb Bishop (Trombone), Jason Mears (alto sax, b-flat clarinet), Jeff Parker (el. guitar), Jason Roebke (contrabass). At its least interesting, this is hot, generic 60s/90s jazz with the heads and solos we know and love. At its most interesting, it reveals a head full of multi-directional creative impulses planted on Eisenstadt's shoulders. For me, the highlight of the disc is the 15-minute "Posauno Y Schlagwerk > Between a Rock". A Berne-ish collapsing funk theme hooks me into the proceedings early on. A collective round of short-note jabs at the theme gets the blood flowing more. Eisenstadt's precise and expressive drumkit accents create powerful packets of energy and reveal him as a relative newcomer to the fold of elite drum-kit stylists of the current era--Black, Arguelles, Wolleson, Hollenbeck, etc. Adasiewicz's vibraphone sounds great playing hanging chords midway through the piece, and between the vibes vibe and the slow/fast tempo overlays I think of the mighty Claudia Quintet for a while, but things keep changing and the next section has a fascinating passage for vibraphone, electric guitar and drumkit; it's a very mellow, squirrely, and impressionistic sound that strikes my ears as a recent innovation in the jazz vernacular dating back no more than ten or fifteen years.
Alongside Eisenstadt, the most impressive and consistent performance on the disc comes from Jason Roebke, and in this piece it's easy hear that he's a somewhat different breed of musician than the others who's heavily invested in avant-garde contexts aside from this kind of jazz work. He seems to relish an opportunity to work at the fringes of bass technique and introduce edgy timbres and textural concerns. When he start growling, the others wrap around him with a riveting collective improv, offering the multiple layers of parallel activity I love to hear in avant-jazz (think Fonda-Stevens quintet). Another creative departure from conventional jazz forms is "Seed (for Henryk Gorecki)" with its slow and delicate swell to moderately vigorous activity levels over the course of 8 minutes. As a whole, Eisenstadt's project is a good example of a 90s avant-garde jazz aesthetic that takes eclecticism as an axiom, puts a primary emphasis on swing and groove, and makes only passing reference to free jazz as one of many formative elements gleaned from the jazz continuum and beyond. There's a similar spirit to the Vinny Golia Quintet, with a genuine passion for flat-out in-the-pocket jazz in the post-Dolphy and post- Blue Note traditions, balanced with an selective interest in ideas from free improv and academic notationalism. I certainly don't mean to suggest the playing is anywhere near the same level as Golia's unit, but then again, what is?!! The overall approach and quality is in the same ballpark as the Vandermark 5, taking a lot of different angles on jazz and post-jazz possibilities. As traditional soloists, Adasiewicz and Parker may be undistinguished, but the coloration of vibraphone and electric guitar (including extended techniques with subtle feedback, screwing around with the pickups, etc) is very effective in a few passages where they have an orchestral and textural function, and Eisenstadt's compositions generally make fine use of the rich timbral palette he selected for the project and relieve much of the burden on the individual players to carry the music through their own lines.