This is Erik Friedlander’s fourth album with his Topaz quartet, featuring the leader on cello, Andy Laster on alto sax and clarinet, Stomu Takeishi on electric bass and Satoshi Takeishi on percussion. The group’s main asset is its distinctive sound, which is quasi-electric but without conventional drums. Friedlander’s instrument can freely alternate between bass and melody, arco and pizzicato. Often he’ll bow single-note solos like a horn or play sinuous legato melodies in unison or counterpoint with Laster’s reeds. He opens “7th Sister” and “Rain Bearers” almost like a guitarist, plucking rhapsodically without accompaniment, then easing into tempo by looping arpeggiated figures or double-stops.
There are Eastern or African tinges in places, not least on the opening “Howling Circle” and the closing “Najime.” But Friedlander’s bluesy pizzicato rendering of “A Closer Walk With Thee” is effectively a nod to post-Katrina New Orleans, complete with Laster’s clarinet obbligato and Satoshi’s funereal march patterns. The combination of alto sax and cello can be a bit harsh, as in the simultaneous soloing of “A Dangerous Game.” On clarinet features like “Anhinga,” the ensemble sound is at its most lithe and transparent.