A Melting Pot of All Kinds of Rhythms, Harmonies and Vamps
Harris Eisenstadt, a drummer and composer originally from Toronto, takes a fixer’s approach to music making, looking for ways to fit the pieces together. He works along jazz’s progressive fringe but doesn’t generally set out to make a ruckus. In his own music especially, he often seems intent on extracting consonance from dissonance or forging ungainliness into grace.
His most recent album, “Woodblock Prints” (No Business), presents a prepossessing take on chamber jazz, with a lineup that includes bassoon, French horn, electric guitar, tuba and trombone. He applies the same creative standard to a more conventionally shaped quintet, Canada Day, which released its self-titled debut last year and is scheduled to record a follow-up this weekend. Mr. Eisenstadt brought the band to the Cornelia Street Café on Monday night, playing music that will presumably end up on that release.
The first set opened with a coordinated spasm. Mr. Eisenstadt and his rhythm-section partners, the vibraphonist Chris Dingman and the bassist Eivind Opsvik, locked into an odd-metered vamp, while the tenor saxophonist Matt Bauder floated long tones above. Against this off-center but stable foundation, the trumpeter Nate Wooley improvised in breathy blurts, a dark graffiti scrawl. It was abstract expressionism, but the tune, “To See/Tootie,” never sealed itself off, inviting engagement instead.
This was partly a matter of texture. Mr. Eisenstadt played with a keen ear for it, creating a breadth of sound with his drums and cymbals, but at the lowest necessary threshold of volume. And Mr. Dingman, the harmonic center of the band, voiced even oblique chords with a crushed-velvet touch, letting them resonate softly in the room. The hollow sound of Mr. Opsvik’s bass furthered an impression of warmth, as did the tone of Mr. Bauder’s tenor (shadowy, rounded) and the timbre of Mr. Wooley’s horn (matte finish, no-glare).
The compositions often involved some rhythmic sleight of hand: in “To Eh,” a skittering double-time beat over an angular bass line, suggesting two simultaneous tempos; in “To Be,” a melody oscillating between eighth notes and eighth-note triplets, giving the impression of a shift in gears.
But there was also plenty of harmonic action embedded in the tunes. “To Seventeen” had trumpet and saxophone pushing forward in intertwining strands, their lines periodically connecting to suggest an evocative chord.
And in the set closer — “Song for Owen,” dedicated to Mr. Eisenstadt’s son — the front line shared a quirky melody in octaves, over a light midtempo swing. The song was closer to normative post-bop than anything preceding it in the set, but its harmonies didn’t resolve quite the way you would expect, leaving the impression of a lullaby left to warp on a dashboard, or viewed through a distorting lens. And yet the band gave it a sense of proportion and finesse, leaving nothing out of place.