All About Jazz New York review by Matthew Miller

Convergence Quartet – Song/Dance (CF 187)
Harris Eisenstadt – Woodblock Prints (NoBusiness)
It’s rare that a group’s name speaks volumes about its sound and philosophy, but mark The Convergence Quartet down as an exception. The name sounds unremarkable until you hear the striking chemistry drummer Harris Eisenstadt, cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum, pianist Alexander Hawkins and bassist Dominic Lash achieve on Song/Dance, the group’s second release. Its members hail from three different countries, but it is the convergence of four distinct artists and the uncommonly compelling results achieved that make the name truly resonate. Bynum and Eisenstadt will be familiar to NYC jazz fans and have played together in a number of configurations. Hawkins and Lash hail from and are still based in the UK, performing with John Butcher, Evan Parker and Joe McPhee. As fierce as Bynum, Eisenstadt, Lash and Hawkins are capable of playing, Song/Dance starts with a piano phrase that sounds like a lilting children’s song. “Second” quickly develops into a rousing group improvisation, but it never loses its singsong quality. As varied as the nine selections are, that same clarity and effortless focus pervade the album. “Iris” begins
with whistling split tones and breathy, melodramatic low notes from Bynum. At the height of the solo improvisation, Hawkins enters with an insistent chord pattern that introduces a jaunty theme that forms the basis for another free-associative performance by the quartet. The South African traditional song “Kudala” (Long Ago) is a fitting conclusion to this wonderfully assured album. Hawkins states the joyous theme before Bynum and the other members enter with wild abandon, abstracting melody and harmony, but never straying from the piece’s profound simplicity. Since arriving in New York in the early ‘00s, Eisenstadt has established himself equally as a composer and drummer. Like a number of his peers – Tyshawn Sorey comes to mind – he is committed to his composing to the point that he can remove himself for extended portions of an album or play an entirely supportive role, content to melt into his own sinewy composed lines. He does both on Woodblock Prints, his latest release for NoBusiness Records. Available only as a limited edition LP, Woodblock Prints is that rare album that seems entirely free from commercial concerns. The record sleeve itself features a beautiful impressionistic print of a budding tree branch and subtle but eye-catching text. Everything about it harkens to a time when an album was an experience – a work of art in itself.  Of course, the music is what makes an album and the six Eisenstadt compositions don’t disappoint. Side A and B begin with wind instrument trios that feature French hornist Mark Taylor and bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck among others, as well as Eisenstadt’s ability as a composer and arranger. Despite the nearly thru-composed nature of many of the pieces, Eisenstadt leaves room for improvisation and injects jazz-inflected chords throughout, especially on his inspired tribute to pianist Andrew Hill. This ability to mix composed and improvised materials is what makes Eisenstadt such a compelling composer and Woodblock Prints such a memorable album.

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