Harris Eisenstadt

Ahimsa Orchestra

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"Ahimsa" was the word that defined Gandhi's nonviolence principle. One wonders why Harris Eisenstadt chose this name for his large-scale project, but it does sound a bit too nonviolent in the end -- it lacks a good smack. Eisenstadt's writing for his other groups (usually quintets or bigger) balances complex themes and structured improvisation. In this case, it seems that all his compositional efforts went into devising playing/pairing sequences and a spontaneous conduction vocabulary for conductor Omid Zoufonoun to use. The result is music that is much more abstract, cluttered, and flat. This album consists of two long pieces (broken down into movements) recorded live on separate occasions, with different lineups, although both are 12-piece groups with similar instrumentation. "Non-Violence" features, among others, flutist Steve Adams, oboist Kyle Bruckmann, and electric guitarist Bill Horvitz. The lineup for "Relief" includes percussionist Alex Cline, bassist Bill Casale, Vinny Golia on bass clarinet, and Sara Schoenbeck on bassoon -- the latter two deliver strong solos. Paradoxically, Eisenstadt, who remains very discreet when he leads smaller groups, takes a drum solo as part of this large ensemble. Ahimsa Orchestra contains good solo spots, nice ensemble workouts, and some interesting interplay within certain subgroupings, but, surprisingly, it all amounts to little. Some listeners will believe this results from the fact that melodic themes are few and far between, but even if that's true, it is not the reason why this album is a disappointment. This experiment simply doesn't lift off. Its shortcomings become even more apparent when one compares this album to The Soul and Gone, a seven-piece project released around the same time.

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