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Harris Eisenstadt - Canada Day IV [Songlines - 2015]

Toronto Drummer Harris Eisenstadt and his band play an immediately pleasing variety of smoky, chilled lounge jazz centered around his drumming and the complimentary voices of  saxophone and vibraphone, an instrument with a luminous timbre that is always welcome to me.  This album "Canada Day IV" is the 4th in a series which began in 2009.  Eisenstadt has a vast number of albums dating back to 1999.

Though never harsh or blatantly confrontational, the music can be charmingly dissonant and meandering, like a barely remembered drunken stumble through town in the middle of the night.  "Let's Say It Comes In Waves" adopts a strangely sluggish pulse, as if every note were delayed just behind what is anticipated.  This intentional upset of the groove has an almost comedic sarcasm to it.

The band has a playful way of hurling themselves into chaos and emerging from it again with something sweetly tuneful.  A surprisingly beautiful tonality will suddenly rise out of nebulous circumstances, as when a soaring solo peers out above a murky swell of discordance.  Years of practice have resulted in a near-perfect balance of musicality and spontaneity.  Delicate melodies are skillfully imagined stairstepping uncertain chromatic basslines, navigating unsteady pulses riddled with syncopated taps and fills.

Eisenstadt's drumming is certainly noticable, but doesn't overstate itself.  His primary mode of expression is cymbals, from which he pulls a variety of subtle rhythmic permutations.  He doesn't need to play loudly, as what he does is quite busy and intricate, filling out the music greatly without cluttering it.

Tracks like "Life's Hurtling Passage Onward" really start to bring in a classic hard bop sensibility, the haunted space jazz of albums like Eric Dolphy's "Out to Lunch", which also features a vibraphone.  This tune has a somber, skillful harmonized minor key head melody which is fractured into surrealist freeform distortions during the solo sections.

A few pieces, like the 10 minute "What's Equal to What", are surprisingly sparse and still, taking 4 minutes to rise out of thick silence.  The final 3 minutes of "Life's Hurtling Passage..." as well, are only the soporific and distant sound of the vibraphone cascading up and down the scale, muffled and filtered so as to sound like it is emanating from deep water.

This album sketches its nocturnal city life reveries with an unpredictable, sporadic energy and colorful melodicism, which results in it quite listenable.  The animalistic bleats and squealing harmonics employed by free jazz musicians have been interwoven into something with a great deal more melodic and emotional context.  It takes the best of the conventional and the avant garde.

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

Josh Landry
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