The cello is generally considered to be an ideal balladeer, with its golden, voicelike midrange and achingly tender sustained lines, but these same qualities have led many to conclude that the instrument cannot take on a bolder personality. Erik Friedlander, however, has shown throughout his career that the personality of a cello is determined more than anything else by the personality of its cellist, and his new album as a leader, Quake, proves that even when surrounded by strong, imaginative personalities, his cello is anything but reticent.
Friedlander, alto saxophonist Andy Laster and bassist Stomu Takeishi comprise the cellist's Topaz trio; for Quake's compositions, though, Friedlander wanted additional rhythmic power, and Stomu's brother, Satoshi Takeishi, was enlisted to help out on percussion. This was a good decision; Satoshi can both find just the right atmospheric rattle or twinkle to establish a mood, as on "Glass Bell," and lay down fast-paced rhythmic modulations that sound seamless and organic, as on the opening "Consternation." Stomu, for his part, deftly establishes a fraternal counterpoint on tracks like "Quake" and "Wire." Both sometimes accompany their counterparts and sometimes pull the rug out from under them to see what they'll do.
Friedlander and Laster acquit themselves well either way. "Sainted," a track they carry without the Takeishis, shows just how well they play against each other, with the tension between homophony and polyphony driving the track forward. They also can settle in and caress a melody, as in their take on Iranian singer Googoosh's "Gol Gham." But both Friedlander and Laster shine brightest when moving most quickly, hugging the corners of the theme in "Quake," screaming to the skies on "Beauty Beauty," or simply relentlessly bullrushing an already athletic melody, as on "Bedlam." It all makes for a beautiful refutation of the conventional wisdom about the cello and a record that lives up to its earth-shaking title.