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 Review archive:  # a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Harris Eisenstadt - Golden State [Songlines Recordings - 2014]

This cd, on Songlines Recordings, comes adorned with photos of sun-drenched, urban housing; presumably, given the album title, taken in California. The seven tracks showcase an unusual jazz line-up: drums, contrabass, bassoon and flute; which in turn, creates an unusual collection of pieces. The quartet performs compositions written by Eisenstadt, the drummer; who quietly guides the group.

The first thing that strikes you, is the openness of the sound; not necessarily sparse, or “small”, but open. The bass is the only instrument of any real weight, since Eisenstadt rarely cuts loose at any great volume (for prolonged periods, anyway); so the overall tone of the recordings is somewhat open, even skeletal. At the same time, the quartet is undoubtedly concentrated; distilled into interactions that carry very little superfluous materials. Following this line of thought, there are many moments of unison playing; sometimes between the woodwinds, sometimes occupying the entire group. This brings sections, in “What Is A Straw Horse, Anyways?”, for example, where the term “thunderous” begs to be used; but the quartet can’t really, by default, muster the weight to earn that adjective. This isn’t a criticism at all. I’m not remotely suggesting that that the flute and bassoon are ethereal, or “polite” - they’re often quite the opposite: earthy and noisy. However, they rail against their inherent characteristics and boundaries: they simply can’t match the greater blare of a sax or trombone. Indeed, where Schoenbeck’s bassoon does make attempts at “skronk”, it sounds somewhat restricted and muddied; though the flute fares better, with beating tones and sweeping overtones.
 
This is a curious album, brimming over with material - almost too much to take in. There are sections which bring to mind a lighter form of gagaku, alongside more pastoral passages and even moments of near-chamber playing - the bowed bass during “Sandy”. The quartet isn’t purely aligned to dignity and grace, mind; with spright, twisting-turning sequences that at points hint at prog - the darker sections of “Unless All The Evidence Is In”, for one. In fact, I’m drawn to a rather surprising comparison with the jazzier moments of post-rock: the intricate, yet skeletal, playing raises the ghost of Tortoise, to my ears. As stated before, this is an unconventional quartet and“Golden State” is an unconventional jazz album; whilst it demands (and deserves) attentive listening, I must admit that I quite enjoyed letting it wash over me, as a pointillistic mass of sound.

Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5

Martin P
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