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Saturday, January 19, 2013

Octet Possibilities

Harris Eisenstadt The All Seeing Eye + Octets (poo-bah records, 2007) ** 
Keith Tippet Octet From Granite to Wind (Ogun, 2012) ***
Rob Mazurek Octet – Skull Sessions (Cuneiform, 2013) ****

By Stanley Zappa

Unlistened to, yet surviving years of CD culls, Harris Eisenstadt's The All Seeing Eye + Octets, along with Keith Tippets From Granite to Wind and Rob Mazurek's Skull Sessions, give us three different realizations of the Octet's possibilities.

Knowing how hard it is to arrange my own solo rehearsals, anyone who can manage a duo or larger has earned my respect regardless of the actual output. The octet in particular holds personal fascination in part because of my mania for the number 8, as well as the potential for acute dissonance, my other mania.

Because our focus at Freejazz-stef is the new, I only felt so guilty not listening to the first 5 tracks of Eisenstadt's 2007 recording, as they are re-readings of Wayne (and Alan) Shorter's work from even earlier. Re-readings of old work on a recording from 2007, for this application, are of less interest than Eisenstadt's original work on a recording from 2007. Unfortunately Eisenstadt's original work diminished in interest the longer I listened to Without Roots I-III and What We Were Told I-III. What is interesting about my waning interest in this case is my steady, unwavering fascination with Eisenstadt's compositions, which are tremendous. It's the realization of these intricate compositions and non-authority of the solos that constrain. The instrumentation is fantastic—the combination of bass clarinet, vibes and bassoon can't be beat, especially for those fans of “contemporary classical” music. I wouldn't be surprised if after this session, those involved went to the University to rehearse Perrot Lunaire, and did so with steely, pinpoint precision. Which is to say all the music with none of the excitement. Were we able to pencil in a gig ten years from now, once the brine of life has had its chance to do it's work, with this ensemble, playing these compositions, 2023 would be off to a great start.

Moving away from the composed and conducted towards the felt and understood, Keith Tippets' From Granite to Wind, as Joe pointed out in his review, is a rollicking good listen.From Granite to Wind could just as easily refer to the conjunct of (and wavering between) notation and improvisation through the single, 47 minute composition. Speaking synesthetically, the All Seeing Eye + Octets sounds like (sensible, high ticket) pocket protectors and sensible shoes. The instrumentation (and musicianship) on From Granite to Windsounds like the usual jazz couture—suits and pork pies—with the addition of 16 different colored socks.

With the Skull Sessions, the Rob Mazurek octet proudly bursts out of the closet with the sounds of feathers, fur, animal print spandex and a dash of sequin. And thank God for that. The primary strength of the ensemble and indeed this recording lay in the instrumentation and the luxurious textures they create. First, two drummers. For that, an immediate 4 stars. Hearing the liquidity of John Herndon and Mauricio Takara, makes most single percussion ensembles sound funerary and impoverished. Then there is Thomas Rohrer on the rabeca. You know, the rabeca. What's that? You don't know the rabeca? You will after you listen to Skull Sessions. Not to get all “world beat,” but as heard on the totally fantastic Kaiso Stories, “new” music often benefits from “new” instruments.

Jason Adasiewicz's fantastic vibraphone sensibilities, combined most notably with Nicole Mitchell's piccolo and the part time electronica of Carlos Issa, Guilherme Granado and Mr. Mazurek himself combine to make shimmering, enthralling sound environments which, among other things, bring to mind that special time when the hallucinogens have just taken hold, right before the walls start to bleed and the lamp starts to melt.

The bad trip part happens when written melodies are trotted out as prelude to solos. While there is nothing wrong with Mazurek's cornet playing, many were the times I felt like I was sitting behind the director at the premier, as he talked on his cell phone narrating his favorite parts as they happened—one reason why I no longer go to the movie theater (that and the shootings.) Mazurek, as fine an instrumentalist as he is, did not entrain my attention away from the far more fascinating band behind him. The solos were like pleather belts, distracting from the group's sparkly rainbow suspenders. The pants of this recording would have stood up just fine on their own without them. Yet we all know as the tail of consumer culture wags the dog of Art, a fascination with big shiny statement-buckles that say “look at me, I'm special” is just as inevitable as the deep seated societal fear of pants, any pants, falling down. It makes one wonder if there will come a time when you can even take your clothes off when you dance--or will it be Bow-tie Daddy until the bitter end?

© stef


Anonymous said...

interesting choice of Eisenstadt Octets to review in this context. His two more recent Octet recordings may have been more relevant comparisons to the other two discs you reviewed. They would may have given an indication of how his compositional voice has developed to its current impressive status