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Monday, August 5, 2013

Harris Eisenstadt September Trio - The Destructive Element (Clean Feed, 2013) ****½

By Martin Schray

Recently we had a very interesting discussion on Ellery Eskelin’s album New York II in which Joe and I were rather critical while Monique, who reviewed it, really loved it. The most fascinating thing was that Mr Eskelin himself joined the discussion in the comment section and added some very insightful arguments as to his idea of a combination of open improvisation with warm and smooth sounds. I listened to New York II again and could see his idea behind it but somehow I thought that he could do better – and he does: On Harris Eisenstadt’s September Trio album “The Destructive Element” the integration of Eskelin’s beautiful tenor sound into Eisenstadt’s compositions works in an almost perfect way.

The September Trio is Harris Eisenstadt (drums, composition), Ellery Eskelin (tenor saxophone) and Angelica Sanchez (piano) and “The Destructive Element” is their second CD after the self-titled debut, which tried to integrate new classical music ways of composing in jazz ballads with the result that the album had an intellectual touch somehow. Their new album tries to separate these genres, which suits the pieces much better.

The album starts with “Swimming, Rained Out”, one of three marvelous ballads, which are structured in a similar way: First there is a rather free intro (in the first case a diffident drum solo), followed by Angelica Sanchez’ solid chords providing an ideal harmonic carpet for Ellery Eskelin’s exquisite melodies while Eisenstadt remains in the background, rather adding sound colors than usual rhythmic support (maybe Mr Eisenstadt’s most impressive quality). The same goes for “Back and Forth” and “Cascadia”, which start with free improvisations on piano before they delve into sheer beauty as well. The title track is a ballad as well but it follows different rules.

Another element on this album are Harris Eisenstadt’s  personal preferences which he tries to transfer into music, like writer Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim quotation  in the title-track, Arnold Schoenberg’s avant-garde music in the two parts of “From Schoenberg”, and Akira Kurosawa’s movies in “Here Are the Samurai”. The two “From Schoenberg” parts are the most ambitious compositions quoting Schoenberg’s “Concerto for Violin and Orchestra” while “Here are the Samurai” represents the whole album in a nutshell. Eisenstadt, Eskelin and Sanchez start with a somber balladesque cascade, then the tune continues with rolling percussion and a challenging confrontation of saxophone and piano painting the fight of the Samurai with the bad guys (whether you have Kurosawa’s Yojimbo or The Seven Samurai in mind does not matter). Last but not least the cool jazz themes in “Additives” and “Ordinary Weirdness”, which always fall apart before they have the chance to get pretentious, are also two of the many highlights of this album.

After Convergence Quartet’s “Slow and Steady” this is Mr Eisenstadt’s second coup within a few months. Let’s see what he comes up with next. Highly recommended!

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Watch a featurette about the album here: