I have a theory that adding bassoon to any piece of music can make that piece better. While there are generous portions of bassoon on Harris Eisenstadt’s latest release, I suspect that it would be a stellar album regardless.
Eisenstadt is a drummer and bandleader who has released one or two albums a year for the last decade or so, notably with his Canada Day and Golden State groups. Here, he leads a nonet featuring a who’s who of creative music: Anna Webber on flute, Sara Schoenbeck on said bassoon, Nate Wooley on trumpet, Jeb Bishop on trombone, Dan Peck on tuba, Brandon Seabrook on banjo, Hank Roberts on cello, and Eivind Opsvik on bass. Thus, the overall sound is one of a jazz orchestra playing angular music. Think Anthony Braxton, but not just because several of his collaborators are featured.
Structurally, the 41-minute Recent Developments consists of six longer “parts” with eight interludes. The “parts” are highly-composed with contrapuntal lines. The interludes are more transitional in nature, recorded by ad hoc subsets of the nonet to improvise over aspects of the compositions. The result is a distinctly varied swathe of music with loosely-coupled themes. This is modern avant-garde in so many ways, notably in how influences from jazz, classical, and big band are blended with ease.
Particularly appealing is not only the bassoon (which offers some awesome bouncing low-register lines and drones), but Seabrook’s punk-inflected banjo playing. Not only does the instrument add a unique color to the mix, Seabrook has a penchant for assertiveness, speed picking, and adding notes at unexpected moments.
A standout track is Part 4, which features Schoenbeck, Webber, and Eisenstadt starting off in trio form, but eventually joined by the rest of the ensemble to set forth a complex, angular set of overlapping melodies which end with a blowout between Webber and Roberts. Not to be outdone by this composition, Part 4 is followed by Interlude Group 2, an aggressive free improvisation from all contributors featuring jagged left turns.
This is quite the release – an album of the year candidate.