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Harris Eisenstadt: Canada Day IV

Following fast on the heels of Harris Eisenstad's early-2015 Golden State release (featuring the drummer and bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck alongside clarinetist Michael Moore and contrabassist Mark Dresser) comes this fourth chapter in his ongoing Canada Day series. In contrast to Golden State, Canada Day hews to a more conventional trumpet-sax-bass-drums line-up, with vibraphone assuming the role typically accorded piano. It's no less an engaging recording, however, on musical grounds, due in large part to the company the drummer keeps on the release: Nate Wooley (trumpet), Matt Bauder (tenor sax), Chris Dingman (vibes), and Pascal Niggenkemper (bass), each one a bandleader in his own right.

By Eisenstad's own admission, the group concept has evolved since its first gig on July 1, 2007—hence the Canada Day name —yet the fundamental band principle remains in place: “a quintet of standard instrumentation (with vibraphone slightly less traditional than piano would be) that could be a long-term vehicle for a variety of compositional structures and improvisational strategies.” One thing that stands out this time around is the way in which the leader threads solo, duo, trio, and quartet parts into the arrangements: instead of such episodes occurring as stand-alones, they appear within the compositional whole and consequently a more compelling and complex level of interplay materializes.

Navigating stylistic ground located somewhere betwixt modern jazz and freewheeling improv, Canada Day's a limber unit capable of changing direction on the fly and oscillating between composed and improvised passages with aplomb. On the album's seven pieces, Niggenkemper's beautiful acoustic bass tone locks tightly into the drummer's ever-shifting patterns—not an easy thing to do when he enlivens his attack with elements drawn from the polyrhythmic traditions of Africa and Cuban batá drumming—and such a strong (albeit elastic) foundation enables the frontline soloists to concentrate fully on their own expressions; in addition, Dingman's shimmer saturates the music with colour, his chords offering additional direction for Wooley and Bauder to follow. Representative of the release's tone is “Life's Hurtling Passage Onward,” which sees an opening theme feeding into a vibes solo and subsequent alternations between thematic re-statements and sax and trumpet solos (the latter an especially out-there affair), all of it executed with consummate ease and animated by the fluid swing of the rhythm section. In establishing the music's stop-start character and tempo shifts, Eisenstadt leads the others throughout the fifty-one-minute recording without being overbearing.

In a recent interview with Songlines' Tony Reif, Eisenstadt astutely differentiates between good-humoured and humour as it applies to music, with the latter suggestive of hilarity and the former more applicable in Eisenstadt's mind to Canada Day in alluding to congeniality (perhaps the most overt instance of that sensibility surfaces in “What Can Be Set to the Side” and specifically in its carnivalesque flavour). One can, after all, be a serious musician whilst also being open to moments of humour and playfulness, and in that regard it's hard to imagine anyone labeling Canada Day IV dour, even if its longest track, the ten-minute “What's Equal to What,” eschews lightheartedness for a more ponderous presentation.

October 2015