Harris Eisenstadt – September Trio’ (CF 229)
Harris Eisenstadt’s September Trio, with pianist Angelica Sanchez and tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin, play an improbably free-floating and poignant music on their first Clean Feed release as a trio (September Trio). The album’s texture is more sparse than even the unorthodox instrumentation would suggest. For a start, the word “fragile” comes to mind. It’s an album played almost entirely out of metered time with long and uncharted collective improvisations that seem like they could fall apart at any time. But the confidence with which these musicians spin their webs of intertwining melodies projects not fragility but poise. The music is delicate, but it is also robust, finding a firm foundation in the over-flowing lyricism that is weaved into the fabric of the music.
Drummer and composer Eisenstadt’s music sets up skeletal phrases that are then given life through out-of-time, free improvisations. Each piece sets up a framework that serves as a point of departure. “September 1”, the first of seven compositions on the album, features Eskelin playing a simple melody, but with an expansive and emotive sensibility, stretching just a few notes into a more detailed portrait than the source material would suggest.
Eisenstadt, who is one of the most timbrally sensitive drummers around, provides an open-ended accompaniment that leaves plenty of space, with deftly placed drum textures coming in and out of silence. Sanchez’s opening arpeggios seem like they might provide a constant, rhythmic presence, but she lets them spin away into a new idea by the end of the first phrase of the melody. It is the kind of playing that might seem flighty in a different setting, but here it is a fitting compliment to Eskelin’s long lines, as if the constant movement of ideas actually grounds the music, rather than unsettling it.
September Trio achieves a rare and special balance. For music that is so gentle and unstructured, it still maintains a vital energy through every twist and turn. The secret is in the layered, complex sentiment at work. The beautiful timbres created by all three players, lush as they are generally, are here and there interrupted by sounds that are harder to categorize, but the music keeps on turning, like a mobile set gently in motion. The pieces could easily be given romantic names, but instead are titled “September 1,” “September 2,” and so on, through “September 7.”
Like the titles of these pieces, the music has no predetermined meaning. Instead, the trio is free to abstract from the ballad-like melodies, letting their own inventions work in complement, and sometimes in conflict with each other. The September Trio makes its impact through the subtlety and richness of expression within the framework of this somber collection of pieces, and September Trio will surely be among 2011’s best.