Harris Eisenstadt: Golden State II
Harris Eisenstadt's Golden State quartet is in all likelihood the only band on the planet that can boast a clarinetist and bassoonist as its front-line. But, lest anyone get the wrong impression, Golden State is no novelty act. It is a bit of a family affair, however, as Eisenstadt initially conceived of Golden State as a chamber ensemble project that would allow the drummer-composer and his wife, bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck, to play together. On this live, fifty-minute date recorded at the 2014 Vancouver International Jazz Festival, the couple's joined by clarinetist Michael Moore (who took flutist's Nicole Mitchell's place, as she was unavailable for Canadian festival dates) and contrabassist Mark Dresser.
Fortuitous in the way it accommodates formal composition and improvising, the group concept centers on putting orchestra instruments into chamber and improvising contexts. Of course the clarinet is no stranger to a jazz setting, though the same can't be said for the bassoon. But Schoenbeck's playing will probably have you re-considering any assumptions you might have about the instrument's potential as an instrument suitable for a non-classical context as the range of sonorities she coaxes from the instrument is considerable. In fact, there are times when her playing suggests a sax more than a bassoon—though it's not that she's trying to trade the bassoon's sound for another, more that she brings forth a range that many a listener might not have thought the instrument possesses.
Eisenstadt's unusual track titles aren't arbitrarily chosen but instead come from diverse sources. “The Arrangement of Unequal Things,” for instance, stems from Richard Ford's wonderful novel Canada, while “A Kind of Resigned Indignation” comes from an obituary for writer Nora Ephron. In terms of the music, the avant-classical side of the band emerges during the opening section of “Seven in Six/A Particularity with a Universal Resonance” before the collective thrusts forward determinedly, eventually tackling elegiac episodes of a rather Threadgill-like character and a rollicking swing section crowned by an agile Moore solo. Elsewhere, the group digs into noir-jazz on “A Kind of Resigned Indignation” and spins collective tales of invention and wonderment throughout the hypnotic closer “Gleaning.”
Four would appear to be the perfect number of musicians for the Golden State project as it affords ample room for each player to maneuver and allows their respective contributions to be heard with maximum clarity. Dresser is unerring throughout, which will come as no surprise to anyone who's followed his stints with Anthony Braxton and Tim Berne, among others. The contrabassist and Eisenstadt provide an elastic and limber bottom end that never stays in one place for long, and Schoenbeck and Moore alternate between solo spots and coiling around each other's lines. One of the things that stands out most of all is the responsiveness each musician shows to the others, something splendidly captured on “The Arrangement of Unequal Things” in the way the bassist and drummer constantly adjust their playing to the other two. There's an occasional looseness to the playing that's not so relaxed as to be off-putting; instead, the impression created is of an explorative outfit mindful of compositional structure but also happy to set it aside when the spirit calls.