Drummer-composer Harris Eisenstadt has a beguiling way of meshing simplicity and sophistication, a characteristic that seems most arresting in the context of his September Trio. It is the smallest of Eisenstadt’s regular ensembles, and features a pair of dynamic stylists who are simpatico with Eisenstadt’s casual complexity. Tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin often plays here in a cool, voluptuous manner that is amiable and attractive, and pianist Angelica Sanchez can tag her phrases with question marks and exclamation points without seeming the slightest bit overwrought. The leader acts as rhythmic sketch artist-there is no hunger to fill the void of the bassist, a role that occasionally falls to Sanchez-and is the least aggressive instrumentalist in the group.
There are a couple of songs directly influenced by Schoenberg; the dilapidated syncopation in the different motifs offered up by Sanchez and Eskelin in “From Schoenberg, Part Two” may be consonant with Schoenberg’s notion of “developing variation.” The relatively tumultuous closer, “Here Are the Samurai,” is inspired by a scene of conflict and foreboding in the film Yojimbo, and the title of The Destructive Element refers to a passage in Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim that talks about the industry and integrity required to truly immerse yourself in chasing a dream. (That the title song is the shortest among these nine originals is a slice of Eisenstadt’s Canadian-wry sensibility.)
It’s a lot of highbrow allusion, and yet the emotional anchor of The Destructive Element lies within the ballads, which are drop-dead gorgeous. There is sheer beauty in the mix of diffidence and passion Eskelin brings to “Swimming, Then Rained Out,” and to the chords and harmony Sanchez gently pours out on “Cascadia.” It’s simple, sophisticated, sublime.