Cellist Erik Friedlander has been a prominent figure in New York's avant-garde "downtown scene" for many years, working with John Zorn, Mark Dresser, and Dave Douglas. He made significant contributions to a number of outstanding "new music" albums, many of which, however, went over the heads of not only the mass audience, but many jazz fans. This CD should have a wider appeal.
The band here, Topaz, was formed in 1996 and includes Friedlander, alto saxman Andy Laster, bassist Stomu Takeishi, and his brother, percussionist Satoshi Takeishi. Appearing on some tracks are world-class cimbalom (a large hammered dulcimer played in Central and Eastern Europe) player Alexander Fedoriouk, a native of Ukraine now living in Parma and doing postgraduate work at Cleveland State, and the Atlas Cello Quartet. The music here is texturally softer than many new music CDs on which Friedlander has appeared. Among the tunes employed here are not only originals, but compositions by Henry Mancini, Carlos Santana, and Charlie Mingus. Although the rhythms and meters are varied, some of the tracks have an infectious quality that will appeal to many listeners if the CD gets airplay. Elements of jazz, modern classical, and Balkan and Middle Eastern music are skillfully blended in the charts.
A consummate artist, Friedlander has extended the range of the cello in various ways. His guitar-like plucked work on "Golden Dawn" shows he's an excellent pizzicato as well as arco player. Fedoriouk is given limited space, but does a fine job as a colorist. He's a gifted improviser and, like Friedlander, is extending the range of his instrument, demonstrating that it can be employed in a wide variety of genres.