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Album Review: Harris Eisenstadt – Canada Day IV

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The concept of creating something natural sounding is made especially hard when progressive songwriting and virtuosic instrumental playing come into play.  Progressive artists are often led down a path leading to a world of mathematical problems in place of beautiful sound and often the music loses its original purpose.  What makes Harris Eisenstadt’s Canada Day IV special is the way in which his compositions incorporate progressive songwriting techniques while maintaining a beautiful overall sound accessible to the average listener.  Songwriting ideas such as odd meter, dynamic texture, and free playing have been bathed in subtlety and are presented in a fresh, interesting way that never becomes obnoxious or excessive.

One of the struggles of modern jazz is to compose in a way that transcends the individual and focusses on the overall ensemble sound.  Despite the obvious display of solos and individual prowess, the ensemble of Canada Day IV is ever-changing, interesting, and equally important, which is due in part to Harris Eisenstadt’s mastery of texture.  Whether it be something as simple as using a vibraphone rather than a piano or something more complex such as evolving levels of collective improvisation, the texture of Canada Day IV has become a bit of an enigma resulting in an ensemble sound as dynamic as a full out big band.  Another way the ensemble is connected is through interaction.  Trumpet player Nate Wooley and Saxophone player Matt Bauder are obviously given ample time to bounce ideas off each other, however, it seems like every solo is accompanied by some level of Chris Dingman’s vibraphone prowess and Eisenstadts advanced cymbal work.  It is this interworking of parts of the ensemble that make Canada Day IV such a beautiful work of art reflective of the significance of music as a form of communication.

Another important aspect of Eisenstadt’s songwriting is the presentation of his melodies and solo work.  Each song has a specified melody and chord structure used to solo over, however, the lines are so blurred that the pieces flow from section to section without interruption resulting in a very natural progression of motivic ideas.  The song Let’s Say it Comes in Waves is a prime example of how Eisenstadt uses melody and texture to increase flow in the album.  Just before Nate Wooley’s (fantastic) solo the head presents improvisational trading between Wooley and Matt Bauder.  Each section of improvising is broken up by a unison melody between the two and the last iteration of the unison melody immediately transitions into Wooley’s solo, which he smartly begins with a repetition of the final motive of the previous melody.  This results in a gradual progression from concocted melody to high intensity improvising that helps the sound accomplish its accessibility.  The ensemble isn’t forced into sections of music, instead every choice is evolutionary, completely derived from the last idea.

Canada Day IV is truly masterpiece of modern jazz that avoids the traps of excessive progressive music.  By providing a natural progression of ideas that is emphasized by ensemble communication and textural prowess, Eisenstadt has created an accessible piece of music riddled with subtleties that also appeal to the experienced listener.

-Review by Donovan Burtan