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Harris Eisenstadt: Old Growth Forest II (Astral Spirits)

A review of the second album from the drummer/composer's supergroup

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Harris Eisenstadt, Old Growth Forest II
The cover of Old Growth Forest II by Harris Eisenstadt

The original Stone on Avenue C in downtown New York City is cemented in the avant-garde annals as a launch pad for spontaneous meetings of the deepest musical minds. One such forward-looking crew: Old Growth Forest, a supergroup spearheaded by ace drummer, improviser, and composer Harris Eisenstadt. Back in 2015, the Brooklyn avant-jazz linchpin and leader of Canada Day and September Trio reconvened his working trio with trombonist Jeb Bishop and bassist Jason Roebke for two sets as part of his weeklong residency at John Zorn’s Alphabet City performance space. At the behest of Bishop, tenor and soprano saxophonist Tony Malaby—an Eisenstadt comrade and fellow scene pillar—was recruited, and a new band was formed. Its debut, Old Growth Forest (Clean Feed), was equal parts heady compositional technique and turbulent improvisation.

Now comes the similarly gripping Old Growth Forest II, unpredictable in its rhythmic twists and turns but seamlessly flowing. The free-floating dynamics are due in part to Eisenstadt, the group’s guiding force both behind the kit and as a writer. A former student of Barry Altschul, he has a similar unfettered command of percussive splatter, hard-swinging grooves, and bold abstractions. But the set’s true strength is in its simpatico vibes; this is a synergetic effort bursting with remarkable harmony and effortless interplay.

Eisenstadt, Bishop, Malaby, and Roebke were born to be in a band together. “Needles – Seedlings,” the Ascension-ish 10-minute opener, is the sublime crystallization of their rapport. Beginning as a stately march, it unfolds in a dizzying series of directions both sonically and structurally, as Malaby and Bishop trade majestic melodic passages and the occasional skronky blast. Meanwhile, Eisenstadt sculpts a wild canvas of clang and clatter. Roebke shines on standouts like “Rustling” and “Pit and Mound,” laying down a sturdy foundation with thick plucks, while the dueling of Malaby’s saxophones and Bishop’s trombones yield a groundswell of infectious, sophisticated, sinewy lines. Let’s hope a third installment of Old Growth Forest is on the horizon.

Preview or download Old Growth Forest II on Amazon!