Interview with Drummer Harris Eisenstadt

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  • DD: Most people wouldn’t think of a drummer making an almost entirely rubato album. How do you see yourself, as a drummer, fitting into that situation?
    HE: I’ve often been asked why there are so few drum solos on my records. In fact, we had a rehearsal for Canada Day a few days ago and it just made sense to put a drum solo into a piece, even though my intention was for a bass solo. So, I try to resist the temptation. Some of my drummer heroes are completely different when it comes to their idea of a drummer-led band. Elvin Jones is my idol, and yet as a leader, I couldn’t me be more different in my concept of what a drummer-leader is supposed to do. Sometimes his drums were set up in front of the band, and on every tune there was a 20-minute drum solo.

    That’s just not my concept. I’m not averse to drum solos, but in the rhythm section you’re playing the whole time, so do you really need to take a solo too? I try to get away from hierarchy as much as possible. When I compose I feel I’m writing for the band. I’m writing counterpoint, and ensemble sections. With September Trio, the idea was to have both lyrical and abstract playing going on with simple compositions, so having drum solos wasn’t really appropriate.

  • DD: Almost the entire album is rubato, so obviously you’re thinking more about texture than time.
    HE: It picks up an earlier thread with some of my older records. Many of them have a kind of muted quality to them. The last few records have really been dealing with time, so for this one it just seemed to make sense. The last piece, and maybe the sixth piece, have a drive to them and the first songs are very tranquil. The writing grew out of how the music sounded when we were improvising. It wasn’t all rubato, but a lot of it was, so it made sense to deal with space and with silences. I wasn’t trying to capture any narrative idea, like “this is what mid-town Manhattan sounds like,” I was just trying to do what made sense according to how we improvised.
  • DD: You mentioned the sound of some of your earlier albums, so I’m wondering if you look at your recordings as a single, or perhaps collective statement, and that this album was a new chapter in that? You said that you thought of this album as a “ballad album.”
    HE: I did actually. Not to be pretentious, but I do think that we should all be concerned not just with the album we’re making now, but with records we’ve made and with where our concept is going. It turns out that this is my tenth record as a leader. I know what I’m doing next year, and maybe the year after. I have a few smaller ensemble, orchestrated records, some more jazz focused records and I’ve been part of these collective trios over the years that have more wide-open spaces, some of them completely improvised. With September Trio, we fell into this spacious, improvised way of playing, so then when I stepped into leading the group, I tried to write pieces that would fall into that sound world. It was a strange situation where a happenstance gig led to a compositional approach that maybe wouldn’t have been there otherwise.

  • DD: One could have the opposite idea too, where this album is only this album, in that it stands alone. It sounds like there is some of that idea in this group as well.
    HE: Yes, I agree.
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