Saturday, June 16, 2012

Good Music

The title of this post is really the best way to describe these 3 CDs.  When you get the opportunity to listen to these recordings, you'll hear there is no need for a clever heading.

Canadian-born Harris Eisenstadt is someone who could and should be termed a "composer-ly" drummer.  He is an impressive writer/arranger; one listen to his new CD, "Canada Day Octet" (482 Music) and maybe you'll understand my made-up term.  This ensemble, made up of the 5 members of his Canada Day  - Matt Bauder (tenor saxophone), Nate Wooley (trumpet), Chris Dingman (vibraphone) and Garth Stevenson (acoustic bass) - adds the distinctive voices of Jason Mears (alto saxophone), Dan Peck (tuba) and Ray Anderson (trombone) to play the 4-part suite "The Omsbudsman" and the attractive "Ballad for 10.6.7" (Mac users will know what this title refers to.) The 41+ minute suite opens with Eisenstadt's declarative drums solo setting not only the stage for what follows but also the "attitude".  The work is forthcoming, rhythmical, harmonically and melodically rich, with a wide dynamic range. Even with 8 powerful voices, this music is not cluttered.  After the drum statement, "Part 1" settles into a funky, African-style, rhythm - the new members get the solos with Anderson starting in a mellow mood before turning up the heat.  After a short group statement supported by Dingman's tolling vibes, Mears lets loose with a fiery spot.  Next, Peck makes a short solo statement, filled with moans and harmonics that leads to a longer and much "freer" section as the piece winds down. Mears opens "Part 2" with a boppish statement before Peck's mobile tuba phrases introduce the rhythmical direction. The bass and drums move in and around the rhythm patterns but the tuba keeps leading them forward.  There are several moments throughout the entire suite that the music will remind you of Abdullah Ibrahim's works for quintet and large band.  Wooley's continuous circular lines gives the opening of "Part 3" a rambunctious feel but the octet settles into a medium tempo and the trumpeter creates an exciting solo - the interplay between the tuba and bass is impressive here as well as throughout the program. They do not get in each others way while both support the ensemble with rock-solid phrases.

"Canada Day Octet" has fire and grace, a sense of melodic adventure and rhythmic variety and smart arrangements.  Let this music soak in to your soul;  you will return time and again to these satisfying sounds.  For more information, click here to go the "Project Page" on Harris Eisenstadt's website or go to

I had the great pleasure of seeing and hearing the Quintet edition Canada Day live at Firehouse 12 in December of 2011. They had just finished recording the Octet tracks the week before and were still getting to know the book Eisenstadt had created for this, their 3rd CD on Songlines Recording (appropriately named "Canada Day III".) Like the Octet recording and the group's previous releases, this music is very involving and original.  There's more room for the principals to solo and they do not disappoint.  It's tough to be an original "voice" on vibraphone but Chris Dingman is maturing into an impressive soloist, relying on melodic invention as opposed to "speed".  Matt Bauder and Nate Wooley each make choices when they solo that may seem surprising (and often are) but make perfect sense in the flow of the pieces.  The dialogue of the trumpeter and drummer on "A Whole New Amount of Interactivity" during the former's solo is visceral and, before Eisenstadt's solo, he and Bauder push and poke at each other. The 2 also get together near the end of the following track, "The Magician of Lublin", their musical conversation reminding this listener of the Anthony Braxton-Max Roach duo in the late 1970s.

Garth Stevenson's bass work is integral to the success and quality of this music.  His foundational lines allow his section partner freedom of movement and to interact with the soloists.  The bassist creates a strong counterpoint to Wooley's "shredding" tones on "Nosey Parker", the two of pushing hard while Dingman and Eisenstadt add different colors.  The Quintet creates a wonderful aural world on "King of the Kutriba", a ballad dedicated to one of Eisenstadt's Gambian drum teachers Mamady Danfa.  This track has no real solos, just a group of melodic phrases shared by the band while the drummer keeps quiet accompaniment.   The other slow track, "Song For Sara" (dedicated to Eisenstadt's wife, the bassonist Sara Schoenbeck), has a structure in its rhythm that seems to be tumbling forward as the soloists play over it (on this track, both Wooley and Dingman create fine statements.)

On the evening of that December concert, I chatted with Harris Eisenstadt, telling him  how original and impressive his writing was for this band.  The music has plenty of fire but it's often tempered with stretches of melodic and rhythmic invention.  This music breathes especially as the band works with and for each other.  To find out more, go to -  to read an interview with the drummer/composer go to and follow the prompts. Also, our friend Jason Crane interviewed the drummer before Crane went off on his extended "Jazz or Bust" road trip - click on the link at the top right of this post (or here, if you would rather.) "Canada Day III" is released in the USA on July 10, 2012.
Here's a download of the opening track, courtesy of Songlines and IODA Promonet:
Slow and Steady (mp3)

Here's a smart idea from the Brooklyn Jazz Underground that led to a knockout recording. Put together 5 bandleaders - bassist Anne Mette-Iversen, trumpeter David Smith, drummer Rob Garcia plus multi-reed players Adam Kolker and Dan Pratt - and have them write tunes for a concert in their adopted home city. They did just that in Spring of 2011 and had such a good time, they decided to put their pieces on record.  "A Portrait of Brooklyn" (BJU Records) features new material from each participant.  The results are mighty impressive, not at all feeling like it was thrown together.  Each musician/composer brings his or her strengths, they respect one another and know they can kick butt, if need be.  Let's start with the excellent rhythm section.  Bassist Mette-Iversen continues to improve, her steady hand and melodic lines underpinning each track.  Garcia has great feel, pushing when he feels the music requires his strong hand and also showing excellent cymbal work.  His insistent drive on the opening track, "Starr Street" (composed by Smith), makes the piece crackle. Smith's trumpet leads the charge yet the reed arrangement should not be missed (mostly on the theme and the breaks between solos).  Pratt's sneaky-funky "Buttermilk Channel" (again Garcia proves his mettle providing a beat you can actually dance to while driving the band) features smart solos from Kolker (tenor) and Pratt (alto) while Smith gets the opening and closing melody sections.  The drummer plays with exquisite fire on his own "King", a multi-sectioned composition with a hard-driving rhythm (the bassist plays a furious "walking" line to goad the saxophonists who respond with energetic solos. Garcia's other contribution, "1898", is a lovely ballad with evocative clarinets both in the lead and ensemble while Smith's trumpet sound is rich and clear.  Another ballad also stands out; Kolker's "Totem" has a simple melody but elegant harmonies - over his past several recordings, the composer has been moving towards a fusion of jazz sensibilities with folk melodies.  They are often entrancing.  Here, Ms. Mette-Iversen's steady melodic counterpoint beneath the reeds moves the piece forward peacefully while her solo shows just how melodic she can be. The reed player's other tune, "JV", is influenced by Ornette Coleman yet also has a touch of New Orleans in its DNA. The bassist's piece "The Cherry Bees" has a light-hearted melody played by flute, clarinet and trumpet while her big-toned bass lines and Garcia martial drums move easily below.  Note how the rhythm section falls into a blues pattern under the trumpet solo as the reeds provide counterpoint.  One can hear the influence of Dave Holland in these compositions (her other track, "Osgood In Brooklyn", has a heavier feel but here the saxophones raucously circle around the trumpet.)

"A Portrait of Brooklyn" showcases 5 musician/composers in their prime. This is not a "jam" session but a gathering of the spirits paying tribute to their home and having fun creating common ground.  Soul and creativity, imagination and joy are elements to be prized in creative music.  They are in abundance on this excellent CD.  For more information, go to either or to   here's

The CD is released on June 26 -  here's a track to whet your appetite while you're waiting, courtesy of BJU Records and IODA Promonet:
King (mp3)

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