Golden State (2013)

Harris Eisenstadt’s Golden State

Songlines (CD)

Released Sep 14, 2013; recorded by Darrell Harvey at Studio West, San Diego, CA, Nov 17, 2012; mixed by John Raham at Afterlife, Vancouver, BC; mastered by Graemme Brown at Zen Mastering; photography by Jon Setzen; design by Jordan Bent; produced by Harris Eisenstadt; executive production by Tony Relf

Personnel:

  • Harris Eisenstadt (drums, compositions)
  • Nicole Mitchell (flute)
  • Sara Schoenbeck (bassoon)
  • Mark Dresser (bass)

Track List:

  1. What Is a Straw Horse, Anyways? (5:37)
  2. It Is Never Safe to Be (5:08)
  3. Dogmatic in Any Case (8:49)
  4. Unless All the Evidence Is In (4:38)
  5. Sandy (8:55)
  6. Especially Preposterous Assertions (6:22)
  7. Flabbergasted by the Unconventional (7:50)

Review

This is new music. The latest compositional adventure by drummer Harris Eisenstadt, this represents his most daring and exploratory work to date. The band he has assembled is drawn from among the best musicians playing their respective instruments today. Nicole Mitchell, a legend in her own time, emerged on the Chicago scene in the 1990s and now teaches at University of California-Irvine. She has extended the vocabulary of the flute perhaps more than anyone else of her generation. Sara Schoenbeck, a creative and technically brilliant player, has introduced the bassoon to numerous revolutionary contexts on the New York scene and beyond. Mark Dresser, the veteran of the band, has led and played with many exciting ensembles since emerging in the Anthony Braxton Quartet in the 1980s. Each of these musicians brings a sophisticated array of interpretive talents to Eisenstadt’s compositions.

Eisenstadt has chosen autonomy and a certain percussive quality over fluidity in his writing for this album, instead arriving at a mosaic-style cohesion of sound driven not by the traditional rhythm section, but rather by the flute and bassoon. This is one of the conceptually brilliant decisions clear at the outset–Eisenstadt is not merely unleashing traditional flute and bassoon in a jazz context where there may still be low-lying apples easy to harvest. Instead he has set his sights high, redefining the possibilities of these instruments in jazz and improvised music. We can make no easy comparisons to the great flautists of earlier generations, such as Eric Dolphy or James Newton, either in style or in compositional conception. And still further, the bassoon is not pulled from a chamber performance and expected to deliver something similar here. Mitchell and Schoenbeck, both in composed and improvised sections, strike boldly into new territory.

“What Is a Straw Horse, Anyways?” sets the tone right away, as flute and bassoon whirl around one another like capoeira performers, the irregular, shifting beat underneath heightening the drama. “It Is Never Safe to Be” has a lighter feel with drum accents over a brilliant opening bass solo that eventually feeds into a stream of bassoon and flute. Mitchell’s solo over rhythm is an early glimpse of the type of playing she displays throughout. “Dogmatic in Any Case” opens with a melancholic feel, shifting into nimble playing again by both Mitchell and Schoenbeck. Here they provide sparse dots on a canvass, allowing bold space that does not overwhelm, but neither do they give into any kind of compulsion to fill the emptiness that accompanies them–from these diffuse pieces the band gradually builds into an ecstatic frenzy by 7:50 that then dissipates rapidly only to reconstitute itself in repose. Pulsating bass picks “Unless All the Evidence Is In” and leads it along as the others join with a similar boisterous energy. Here it is Schoenbeck’s solo over rhythm that impresses before handing the torch to Mitchell.

“Sandy” stands out as the rawest and most emotionally accessible piece on the record. Composed during the hurricane that lay waste to Eisenstadt’s Brooklyn (and much of the eastern seaboard), the piece is infused with moments of foreboding, hope, mourning, and resolute solace. Mitchell’s playing is particularly moving. The shift to bass and bassoon at 4:35 suddenly gives texture, a warmth of solidarity in sound like tightly clasped hands.

An aesthetic warmth carries over into “Especially Preposterous Assertions” which features both woodwinds in successive solos, Mitchell soars to great heights, while Schoenbeck’s approach is more searching. The closing piece, “Flabbergasted by the Unconventional” gives Schoenbeck her greatest exposure and opens with a crisp and challenging solo, followed by Dresser’s robust, often bowed approach. From the assembled parts, Eisenstadt then weaves them together in balanced doses towards conclusion.

Eisenstadt is admirably unselfish on this record and places the other players more in the spotlight, but throughout his eye for precision can be heard in all of his playing, whether it is a singular cymbal strike at one moment, or a subtle rumble from underneath. He is prolific, this being the fifteenth record he has released as a leader since 2001, yet he is also constantly delving into new things. Golden State represents a bold new turn for the leader and profound as this recording is, one is also left with the feeling that this could be just the first chapter in this new exploration of sound, opening the door to countless possibilities beyond, further, deeper.

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