Harris Eisenstadt – Canada Day III and Canada Day Octet (2012)

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photos: Peter Gannushkin

Toronto born, New York based drummer Harris Eisenstadt has taken the master route for learning the ins and outs of modern creative jazz music, having studied under or worked with Sam Rivers, Wadada Leo Smith, Barry Altschul, Yusef Lateef, Vinny Golia, Elton Dean, Tony Malaby, Bennie Maupin, and Nels Cline. These days, Eisenstadt is part of a small but very talented group of drummers like Tomas Fujiwara and John Hollenbeck, who excels at composing as well as leading a fully articulate band from behind the kit. And just as Hollenbeck helms his Claudia Quintet and Fujiwara heads up the Hook Up, Eisenstadt also has for the last five years his own primary vehicle for modern jazz expression, and it’s called Canada Day. “Canada Day” is also the name he gives to a series of records recorded with this ensemble, starting with the self-titled disc in 2009, followed by Canada Day II last year. Both of these records had critical praise heaped on them (I recall seeing II on many a “best of 2011” list.)

So guess what’s up next for Eisenstadt? If your answer was Canada Day III, then you’d be only half right: in addition to that one, Eisenstadt unveils a new band, the Canada Day Octet, and a new album by the same name. As before, Canada Day is a quintet with Eisenstadt, Nate Wooley on trumpet, Matt Bauder on tenor sax, and Chris Dingman on vibes. A second Canadian, Garth Stevenson, replaces Elvind Opsvik on acoustic bass. The Octet adds trombonist Ray Anderson, tuba player Dan Peck and alto saxophonist Jason Mears to the quintet.

Eisenstadt has a firmly established approach to modern jazz and doesn’t waver from it on either of these albums. There are more of the angular, thoughtful compositions, arranged in such a way to exploit the capabilities of everyone in the band. Perhaps it’s due to the presence of Eisenstadt’s ace vibrist Dingman, but the music shares some similarities with Dave Holland’s quintet and sextet of the last fifteen or so years, especially when Ray Anderson joins in. However, Dingman does have the dynamism of Steve Nelson and Eisenstadt himself can at times resemble Billy Kilson.

If this is a David Holland combo, though, it’s a more deliberately moving version of one. Eisenstadt likes for his compositions to unfold at a more gradual pace, which come as a result of working through the finer details of the compositions with the band.

The partnership between Wooley and Bauder lifts the songs off the ground and sometimes into high altitude. Wooley lets loose on a nasty-assed trumpet explosion on “Nosey Parker” followed by Bauder’s more elegant phrasings. Later on, both of them squonk together, bespeaking of a playful attitude Eisenstadt allows, even encourages, for his serious-minded compositions. The interplay is especially fine on “Slow And Steady,” where at one point they are going back and forth note-for-note.

Opsvik is a very potent bass player, but I hear no drop off in the aggressiveness of the bottom end on III. “A Whole New Amount of Interactivity” is a great showpiece for Stevenson, as he goes into unison with Dingman, occasionally attaching to other performers as well, and other times keeps the repeating theme going strong while others go out and play in the harmonic playground. His walking bass powers “The Magician of Lublin,” a song that also contains Wooley’s visceral muted trumpet, the kind of raw expression often heard from Eisenstadt’s players.

Canada Day Octet expands the audio footprint, but the context is familiar. In fact, the four part “The Ombudsman” suite that comprises of nearly the entire album was written for quintet and modified to accommodate the three extra players. Part 1 begins with an Eisenstadt drum solo lightly decorated by horn harmonies, but Anderson’s later on is the high point. That first part alone moves through several phases, ending with a full group free-for-all. The Octet’s sound might be full-bodied, but never sounds overly heavy, and everyone is afforded freedom to express themselves.

Those who have relished Harris Eisenstadt’s prior Canada Day records will find much to like here. Especially since the Canada Day series is about to double in output in a single day.

Canada Day II comes to us via Songlines Records, while Canada Day Octet is sold by 482 Music. Both CD’s go on sale July 10. Visit Harris Eisenstadt’s website for more info.

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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