Harris Eisenstadt, the subtle and substantive drummer/percussionist/composer, celebrates two decades of investigations and his recent projects at The Stone in NYC Sept. 1 through 6 with a circle of collaborators whose excellence seems to preclude their commerciality. That ain’t right, as Eisenstadt and the distinctly creative musicians in his ensembles (including Canada Day and Golden State, both on the Stone residency schedule) make music that’s intriguing and melodious. Why originality, a broad and deep musical vocabulary plus ease with form doesn’t grab listeners immediately is a question that’s never been satisfactorily answered.
Eisenstadt’s got rhythm, a natural sense of how time flows, how to express and enhance pulses swinging, rocking, grooving or in clavé. But rather than relying on inherent talent, he’s studied in West Africa and Cuba, and for the first set Wed. 9/2 he’ll perform Lucumi repertoire associated with the syncretic Santería religion on batá drums with John Amira, one of his teachers, and Lorne Watson.
Harris is, however, much more than a beat man. He loves to construct multi-layered, richly harmonized pieces for groups made up of such inspired improvisers as saxophonists Tony Malaby and Matt Bauder, trumpeter Nate Wooley, trombonist Jeb Bishop and vibraphonist Chris Dingman. He explains some of his thought and processes in a video about Canada Day, perhaps his signature band:
(Bassist Jason Roebke joins Bishop, Malaby and Eisenstadt in Old Growth Forest, playing two sets 9/1; bassist Adam Hopkins joins Bauder, Wooley, Dingman and Eisenstadt 9/3 celebrating the release of Canada Day IV at 8 pm, and Bishop, flutist Anna Webber, tubaist Dan Peck fill out the Canada Day Octet for a rare convening that night at 10).
He also enjoys experimenting with instrumentation, writing for the new music band Tilt Brass which features slide trumpet with alto, tenor and bass trombones (for the 10 pm set on 9/2). Mivos String Quartet gives the world premiere of his composition “Whatever Will Happen That Will Also Be” at 10 pm on 9/5.
Eisenstadt is daring enough to switch personnel mid-gig: Golden States plays two sets on 9/4, the first with clarinetist Ben Goldberg and cellist Marika Hughes joining Harris and improvising bassonist Sara Schoenbeck (his wife), the second with violinist Sam Bardfeld replacing Goldberg and cellist Chris Hoffman taking over for Hughes. He readily engages with open improv, performing with the fervent West Coast-resident (ex-New Yorker) reeds virtuoso Vinny Golia on 9/5, and with Adam Rudolph on percussion, Sylie Courvoisier on piano at 8 pm, James Hurt at 10 on 9/6.
Turning 40 on Sept. 4, Eisenstadt may be considered at the top of his game, but he’s continuously reaching for more. Now’s the time to see and hear him — so you’ll be ready for what else this steadily productive musician will arrive at and offer.