Drummer-composer Harris Eisenstadt is the Bill Frisell of the chamber jazz movement; a prolific yet distinctive stylist who operates in myriad ensembles with a consistently high level of quality control. Golden State is Eisenstadt’s 15th record as a leader since 2001, performed by a fascinating quartet comprised of percussion (Eisenstadt), strings (bassist Mark Dresser), woodwind (flautist Nicole Mitchell) and double reeds (bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck, who is Eisenstadt’s wife). It adheres to Eisenstadt’s time-tested template for mixing through-composition with thoughtful but lively improvisation, in a way that is both mannered and full of surprises.
The title indicates where Eisenstadt assembled the group, during his brief residency at CalArts in the fall of 2012. But the guiding spirit here is the now-venerable composer Anthony Braxton: Like Braxton, Eisenstadt encourages moments of visceral interplay within seemingly esoteric structures. There are also plenty of duet and trio interludes, with Eisenstadt playing with more straightforward spunk that is typical on his other projects. But the linchpin of the ensemble is Dresser, whose huge tone playing both a bow and pizzicato enables him to move back and forth from front line harmonizer to rhythmic agitator.
One of the beauties of Golden State is that you can absorb whatever portion suits your attention span. Nearly every one of the seven songs has suite-like distinctions but also episodic continuity. Songs two through four are themselves a larger suite — their titles, which together form a sentence, gives it away. But you can duck in for the simple pleasure of hearing the momentary exchanges or passages as easily as channel surfing. The punchlines won’t always be funny, but there are miniature keepsakes galore as these four musicians weave in and out of Eisenstadt’s charts.