Apparently Erik Friedlander doesn't feel challenged by the thought of being the best cellist in jazz. Instead, he seems to focus on participating in the most interesting projects he can find, ranging from Dave Douglas' string band to Topaz, the core of this outing. Topaz comprises Friedlander, Andy Laster on alto sax, Stomu Takeishi on electric bass and Satoshi Takeishi on percussion. The extraordinary sounds they collectively generate are augmented on several tracks by Alexander Fedoriouk on cimbalom and by the Atlas Cello Quartet. The cimbalom, the Slavic antecedent of the hammered dulcimer (think The Third Man) reinforces a Middle Eastern/Eastern European flavoring that runs throughout the set. Though eschewing the traditional traps, Takeishi has no problem generating a groove; he is certainly abetted in this cause by his bassist brother, whose fretless work is marked by spot-on intonation, tremendous facility and imagination. "Life, in Line" is a highly charged, rolling 6/8 romp, in which Friedlander's amplified cello plays off against the bass, the two almost merging into one instrument with an impossibly broad range. "Reflections" features five cellos, the quartet backgrounding Friedlander's soaring, singing lines with rich, dark chords. The joys of this recording are many, and Friedlander is a bandleader to watch.