Harris Eisenstadt – “Ups and Downs” (Canada Day, CF 157)
Canada Day is the name of drummer Harris Eisenstadt’s working band, a quintet filled out by trumpeter Nate Wooley, tenor saxophonist Matt Bauder, vibes player Chris Dingman and bassist Eivind Opsvik. The material on the group’s self-titled album is as exciting as it is diverse, with any clichés about group telepathy sounding entirely appropriate.
The heads of these eight Eisenstadt originals show a composer in full flight. Powerful chromatic unisons inform “After an Outdoor Bath”’s first section but are replaced by punchy octaves as the tune shifts from semi-stasis to a swinging groove. By contrast, “And When to Come Back” involves initial swatches of colored sonority as trumpet, saxophone and vibes weave lines into expansive harmonies. Each compositional element returns at some point during the song, but not in a head/solo/head fashion. Rhythms reappear at different tempos. Wooley and Bauder re-inject the melody seemingly on a whim. Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter’s 1960s output is a definite influence, but the vibes lend transparency to the sound and free the others to explore more disparate harmonic regions.
A lot of ground has been covered since 1965, and each soloist brings a broad vocabulary to the table. Bauder and Wooley have always immersed themselves in projects that blend composition and improvisation in innovative ways, and their playing reflects multiple traditions. Each is well known for “New Thing” squall and energy, but here, their solos veer between lyricism and controlled fire with uncanny speed. Bauder’s solo on the contrapuntally complex “Ups and Downs” switches suddenly but subtly from Shorter-esque motivic interjections to Archie Shepp’s multi-phonic honks. Similarly, “Every Day is Canada Day” finds Wooley emitting the soft glow of early Miles until he brings his voice into the equation, filling a long note with rasp and flutter before a startling inter-registral glissando. Opsvik gets little solo room, but he’s a rhythmically inventive and melodically tasteful player who knows the value of space and dynamics. The same can be said of Dingman’s approach; each timely note or sonority shimmers and fades.
Then, there’s Eisenstadt, whose timbral invention is matched by his penchant for rhythmic subversion. He’s equally facile with brushes and sticks, sometimes making it difficult to tell which is which. In the Tony Williams tradition (but not a slave to it), he sets up a pulse or groove only to shake it loose and discard it, the sudden dynamic shifts keeping every gesture fresh. Precision and spontaneity make every gesture simultaneously soloistic and supportive as the structures wend their complex but catchy ways forward. He’s the lynchpin of an exciting aggregate.