HARRIS EISENSTADT – Guewel (CF 123)
The record’s title, pronounced “ghe-well”, means “griot” in the language of the largest ethnic group in Senegal, Wolof. Harris Eisenstadt devoted a considerable portion of his recent artistic research in the study of the Sabar, which fuses dance and drumming to celebrate important events of the local life, by going to Dakar in 2006 and taking lessons with Malick Faye, a master drummer and ensemble leader. The music of Guewel mixes traditional Wolof rhythms and transcriptions of Mbalax tunes, the latter a style of Senegalese pop that got international recognition in the 70s; the five pieces were all constructed in the same way, namely a Mbalax song inserted in customary Sabar metres. Eisenstadt, who arranged the entirety of the tracks, is accompanied by Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet, flugelhorn), Nate Wooley (trumpet), Mark Taylor (French horn) and Josh Sinton (baritone sax). Of course there are copious doses of improvisational outbursts, whose character ranges from garrulous contrapuntal interweaving through grimace-eliciting dissonant lawlessness; yet the greatest feel of “euphoric hymn to existence”, which is typical of certain African manifestations, has to be found in the themes, which – despite being clearly developed upon well defined drum patterns – contain the germs of an energetic fillip which delivers the execution from the bounds of stiffness. This sense of collective happiness is perceivable throughout the record and represents its most significant asset, the relative digestibility of large segments of the material not implying any vituperation of the purity of Eisenstadt’s intents. True spiritual bonds symbolized by a quintet of enthusiast virtuosi who love directing their nosiness towards dangerous peripheries, ending their trips in glory every time. Contagious stuff, to say the least, and an admittedly difficult-to-learn lesson for those who talk about “interior growth” and “deep personal troubles” while living in disproportionate wealth.