Knowing that Woodblock Prints was originally issued as a vinyl LP illuminates its structure. The six songs can be cleaved into two sides, each opening with a short trio, then a longer, more ambitious work for nonet, then a closing, thorny tribute to an admired artist. All of these pieces are assured and unpredictable, infused with purpose yet open to improvisational surprise. Like the title of the project, their artistic mode uses intricate detail to create something of painstaking simplicity.
“Hasui, For Brass Trio,” is the most formal and processional song here, with a lush, feathery texture from the tuba, trombone and French horn. “Hiroshige, For Woodwind Trio,” feels both wistful and deeply satisfied, anchored by Sara Schoenbeck’s bassoon curling under the clarinet and alto sax. But the longer works are the most rewarding. “The Floating World” sifts in varying phases of ensemble interplay over a broad arc, the tuba, bassoon and clarinet taking brief but impressive leads while the rhythm section cues the changes and gooses in a little blues, especially bassist Garth Stevenson. Jonathan Goldberger’s electric guitar parries with the tuba and Eisenstadt’s drums and cymbals herd the beats while his chimes herald the beginning and end of the arc. The tributes, “For Jeff Wall” and “Andrew Hill,” are more headstrong and demarcated, the place you’ll hear some bawdy trombone from Brian Drye (“Wall”) or an escalating cacophony down the stretch (“Hill”).
Eisenstadt again demonstrates that he is a composer not only to be reckoned with, but savored. The songs of Woodblock Prints are both utterly unique and in service to a singular vision, songs that will challenge, invite and delight smart listeners.