Harris Eisenstadt

Fight or Flight

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There are many surprises to be found on Harris Eisenstadt's Fight or Flight. The first one consists of how discreet a role the drummer plays in his compositions. The second is found in Brad Dutz's elegant marimba playing -- despite a strong solo album in the late '90s (Heat the Grill Cook Loin, on Headless), this West Coast percussionist has remained cruelly underexposed and it's a pleasure to find him here. The third surprise is to find once Frank Zappa trombonist Bruce Fowler in the band. The album presents three pieces between 11 and 18 minutes in duration, all recorded on a single day of studio work. Eisenstadt's ensemble writing shares similarities with Vinny Golia's; he moves between styles elegantly and forcelessly, alternately hinting at chamber music, free improvisation, and groove-based jazz, all directions embedded within a coherent vision. The heptet features Ellen Burr on flute and David Philipson on bansuri flute, Fowler on trombone, Mark Weaver on tuba, Bill Casale on contrabass, and Dutz and Eisenstadt taking care of the percussives. The unusual instrumentation is put to good use, avoiding the culprit of "avant-garde march band" it could have led to. After a free-form opening, "Rise" gives way to an impressive performance from Dutz, lacing variations on an already defiant theme. "People Are Gonna Do What They're Gonna Do" showcases the two flutists, while "Trouble Here, Fly There" focuses on the bottom end, laying down a groove interrupted by bass and tuba solos. The whole thing has a clear West Coast new jazz feel: slick, cerebral, engaging, yet careful.

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