Review of OPIUM for allaboutjazz.com
By Derek Taylor
The year 2001 was a banner annum for Bruce Eisenbeil. Increased attention through a high profile gig with living legend Milford Graves at the Vision Festival and a pivotal role in Cecil Taylor’s workshop ensemble earlier in the year cocked more critical ears in his direction and this latest release on CIMP is sure to continue the rising wave of interest. The music is no easy listen, filled with gnarled, abstract fretwork and ornery horn noises but adventurous listeners are likely to glean a sense of satisfaction scouring its craggy sonic crevices.
“Shadows Knight” starts the disc slow, gaining steam for an eventual launch into a tempest of scrabbling arppegiations. The interchange between Eisenbeil and Rosen forms virtually the entire crux of the piece, with the horns riffing nakedly against the violently percussive string and drum barrage. On “Biting Through” the band shows off a unique method of harmonic mastication gnawing on low breath sounds and oscillating tones before Attias and Taylor break the near silence with a string of unceremonious bass register blurts. Taylor’s buzzing lines on “Expectation” almost sound like errant ribbons of feedback from Eisenbeil’s amps. There’s a rampant sense of the methodical about Eisenbeil’s style, but it’s also disarmingly hypnotic. Paying respects to another iconoclastic plectrist Eisenbeil’s “Ode to Blind Joe Death” eulogizes John Fahey in a spidery excursion that echoes several of the dearly departed guitarist’s string-born idiosyncrasies.
With “Whale Booty Stomp” the quartet comes arguably closest to a cleanly stated groove and its partly because Eisenbeil opts to sit out on the piece. Spinning from robust riffing to spiraling linear explosions the two horns corkscrew out a choppy counterpoint against Rosen’s rioting traps. “Kinetic Pimp” is cut from correspondent cloth, but this time Eisenbeil gets in on the action loosing forth fragmented icicle-sharp chords. Other pieces like “Opium 2″ (the absence of its predecessor is never explained) and the mysteriously titled “Climbing to the Zoot Base” are significantly more amorphous and it requires a patient ear to plumb their respective depths. Such diligence is well rewarded and this disc delivers the goods to those willing to dig beneath the surface. Eisenbeil is earning a place amongst the top improvisers on his instrument and with this disc his ascending reputation is certain to continue its steady rise.
Track Listing: SHADOWS KNIGHT/ BITING THROUGH/ EXPECTATION/ WHALE BOOTY STOMP/ KINETIC PIMP/ ODE TO BLIND JOE DEATH/ OVER/ OPIUM 2/ CLIMBING TO THE ZOOT BASE/ OKLAHOMA SPRAWL/ WHISPER/ NEW YEARS EVE.
Personnel: Bruce Eisenbeil- acoustic & electric guitars; Michael Attias- alto & baritone saxophones; David Taylor- bass trombone; Jay Rosen- drums, percussion. Recorded: February 8 & 9, 2001, Rossie, NY.