Erik Friedlander & Topaz | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Erik Friedlander & Topaz 

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ERIK FRIEDLANDER & TOPAZ

In the space of its two recordings, jazz cellist Erik Friedlander's quartet Topaz has provided a working definition of "leaps and bounds." The subtle tunes on its eponymously titled debut showcased some promising tone poetry--especially in the interaction of Friedlander's voluptuous arco work and Andy Laster's wide-planed alto sax--but the album rarely caught fire, suggesting more possibilities than it explored. On last year's Skin (Siam), though, Topaz hardly sounds like the same group: the rhythms are sharper and deeper, and the bottomless grooves of brothers Stomu Takeishi (five-string electric bass) and Satoshi Takeishi (percussion, including steel and frame drums) exploit their Japanese heritage--specifically, the meditative intensity of taiko drumming--as well as the Balkan-influenced clockwork and third-stream music that influenced the first record. On Skin Friedlander blends these elements in his own compositions, and fashions suitable mixing vessels out of some unlikely covers: a long-forgotten Henry Mancini tune, "Susan," from the Orson Welles film Touch of Evil; an obscure Santana song, "Golden Dawn"; Charles Mingus's rarely recorded "Eclipse"; and the Julius Hemphill composition that gives the album its title. Friedlander and Laster--best known for his contributions to the Manhattan "new klezmer" scene--have established a timbral dialogue that ranges from intimate caresses to razor's-edge ripostes, taxing the limits of their instruments' tones. And Friedlander has utterly shed whatever constraints he might've felt on Topaz's debut disc: his bowing soars thrillingly, his pizzicato playing has renewed bite, and he makes measured use of extramusical sounds. Admittedly, the cello has had only about a dozen jazz exponents, and barely a handful of great ones, but Friedlander has secured his place as the most accomplished improviser on the instrument--and even more impressive, he's built a band and repertoire that challenge and magnify his virtuosity instead of merely supporting it. Monday, March 26, 7 PM, Preston Bradley Hall, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington; 312-744-6169.

NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Patti Perret.

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