Erik Friedlander, cello – Rings – Skipstone

by | Aug 25, 2016 | Jazz CD Reviews

Erik Friedlander once again advances the cello into innovative musical areas.

Erik Friedlander – Rings [TrackList follows] – Skipstone SKPST 023, 66:26 [6/10/16] ****:

(Erik Friedlander – cello, producer; Shoko Nagai – piano, accordion, electronics; Satoshi Takeishi – percussion)

Cellist Erik Friedlander is always pushing forward as a composer, musician and music creator. He’s helped elevate the cello as a lead instrument in the jazz arena. He’s explored different aspects of improvisation, composition and performance. On Friedlander’s latest, the 66-minute Rings (issued on his own Skipstone label), he continues to refine and adapt. This time out, Friedlander utilizes a new trio, Black Phebe (it’s unclear if the name is linked to the bird of the same name) to delve into the cyclical characteristics of musical repetition. Despite the application of reiteration, Friedlander’s 12 original pieces offer an enriching degree of variety, with a spacious scope of textures and moods.

Friedlander is a veteran of New York City’s downtown jazz/improvisation scene but also works with artists outside that community. He’s collaborated with American indie folk rock band the Mountain Goats; alt rock singer Courtney Love; as well as jazz players such as Dave Douglas and John Zorn. The other Black Phebe members share Friedlander’s quest for innovative music. Shoko Nagai (on acoustic piano, accordion and electronics) has previously performed alongside guitarists Marc Ribot and Elliot Sharp; and Cibo Matto’s Miho Hatori. Percussionist Satoshi Takeishi’s credits include Eliane Elias, Rez Abbasi, Marc Johnson and many more.

Each of the dozen tracks have a group dynamic which advances Friedlander’s conceptual ideas of recurrence, but three particular tunes employ live looping as an additional tool. “Solve Me,” “Canoe” and “Waterwheel” form the Rings suite. Looping is a method Friedlander has not attempted before. He explains, “I’ve never been a fan of looping as a compositional technique but I changed my mind when I tried it with the band. I create the rings as we improvise and the result is hypnotic and beautiful, but organic.” The suite’s opener, “Solve Me” features a subdued, mostly tranquil atmosphere which involves arco and plucked cello. There is a strange undercurrent via Nagai’s electronics and the way he uses the strings inside his piano, as well as Takeishi’s occasionally unconventional percussion sounds. “Canoe” is full of contrast and harshness, like something darkly hallucinatory which might occur inside a waking nightmare. If there were monsters coming out of a closet, this could be the soundtrack. “Waterwheel” echoes the solace and serenity which is found in “Solve Me.” There are slivers of disparity, but overall there is a sense of hopefulness and heartfelt appreciation (perhaps for others, maybe for the nature implied by the title).

As specified, the album has numerous tones. The CD’s first cut, “The Seducer,” has a tango temperament, with a wonderful and upbeat attitude which showcases the trio’s ability to lace humor into their music. There’s a similar stride on the quick-paced “Risky Business,” the CD’s shortest number, which has a Brazilian tang. The fourth piece, “Fracture,” has a vaporous and ethereal attraction. Takeishi’s nuanced percussive effects suggest hints of Asian and South Indian influences. Friedlander’s bass notes impart a creamy cadence, while Nagai’s subtle keyboards convey a mellow melancholia (not quite sad, but a dollop of inner desolation).

Nagai’s accordion comes to the forefront on the mid-tempo, folk-ish “Small Things,” which also has a tinge or two of Latin American pedigree.

Another highpoint of “Small Things” is how Friedlander and Takeishi communicate through the changing rhythm. The lengthiest track, the nearly nine-minute “Flycatcher,” has a fluid, vibrant viewpoint. There are intimations of klezmer, folk music, minimalism and chamber jazz. Friedlander’s cycling motif has a revolving but seductive disposition accentuated by Takeishi’s resonant percussion (which has traces of Indian tabla music), Friedlander’s recurring cello notes (he sometimes emulates a guitar and other times takes on the role of bassist) and Nagai’s freeform piano contributions (not wholly avant-garde, but almost so in some instances). The trio concludes with the quietly assuming “Silk,” which melds piano trio facets with chamber music properties. While Nagai and Takeishi emphasize the lower register, Friedlander favors the higher register, and the combination provides a vivid comparison and juxtaposition. If venturesome listeners are tired of dissonant noise purveyors but like to search for jazz or improvisational music which reduces genre boundaries, then Rings is one to look for, since it effortlessly coalesces expressive jazz, folk and chamber music elements.

TrackList: The Seducer; Black Phebe; A Single Eye; Fracture; Risky Business; Tremors; Small Things; Rings: Solve Me, Canoe, Waterwheel; Flycatcher; Silk.

—Doug Simpson

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