He Had Me at Cello.
How to Get Your Jazz Album a Glowing Review From Matt Cibula on PopMatters.com:
Step One: Build the Perfect Band.
Erik Friedlander makes his best move here by keeping his group Topaz together. This crack ensemble is one of the top outfits in jazz, although why they’re not credited as “Topaz”, I have no idea. Friedlander himself on cello is the main guy and primary soloist, but he really wouldn’t be free to wail the way he does without Andy Laster’s alto and clarinet support, which can go from free jazz to vaguely klezmer to swingin’ bop/postbop within the same song and/or solo (“Howling Circle”, for instance).
And to have not only the best bassist in jazz, Stomu Takeishi, but also his brother Satoshi on percussion…well, I’m not sure of the dictionary definition of “genius”, but getting the Takeishi brothers as your rhythm section has to be right up there. The way Stomu serpentines the weirdly-timed fractured-funk closer “Najime” through its permutations is unbelievable, and Sato’s semi-solo at the end is well-earned for the previous 50 minutes he’s spent nailing things down.
Step Two: Write Beautiful Songs (or Perhaps Anti-Songs).
Erik Friedlander’s melodies, when he deploys them, go straight to the cerebellum, where they lodge pretty much forever. “Rain Bearers” takes almost a minute to spring to life, all kinds of ambient noodling going on; but once it starts to cook, the lurching Ornette/Mingus theme is indelible. “Prowl” is the disc’s sexiest number, tension without headache, modern choogle with big band swoops, and Laster making like Sexy Young Benny Goodman.
Not all these tunes are really what I’d call songs, but we can call them anti-songs and love them just the same. “A Dangerous Game” has melodic lines to spare, but does not really seem to have a center. That is okay; with edges like this, centers are overrated.
Step Three: Include Bonus Buddhist Subtext.
These tracks wander and meander, making their points with filigree and fun instead of the big hammer. This, combined with song titles like
“Chanting”, “7th Sister”, and “Anhinga” (a waterbird with a snakelike neck: nature-worship!) give the whole project a very Buddhist feel. The motto seems to be Don’t worry about the destination, enjoy the journey! With which sentiment I am muchly in favor. Hell, even their shambling, deconstructive read of the spiritual “A Closer Walk With Thee” feels somehow zen.
So that’s the scoop. Three steps, pretty simple. Get going, y’all… but you have a lot of catching up to do, as Erik Friedlander has already nailed this one over the fence.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times. Thanks everyone.