May 1999

Erik Friedlander

In my 20s, I was trying to become a classical orchestra cellist,” says Erik Friedlander. “By the time I hit 30, I realized that this was a mistake.”

Meanwhile, he remained haunted by an earlier encounter with jazz. “I had played this gig with [bassist] Harvie Swartz,” he recalls. “I was just out of high school and it was the first improvising thing I had ever experienced, and it totally blew my mind. But I couldn’t get work as a jazz cellist. I wasn’t playing over changes so well at the time so the hardcore jazz guys weren’t really interested in me. And I wasn’t hip to thewhole downtown scene,which was really expressive and passionate. I had to make a living so I chose to continue in this classical route to get work.”

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Guy Keren

Erik Friedlander

He gradually got back in touch with improvisation through working with Marty Ehrlich’s Dark Woods and Dave Douglas’ String Band. Friedlander has since become a ubiquitous figure on that downtown improvising scene, performing with Myra Melford, Mark Dresser, and John Zorn. He recorded two atmospheric and provocative albums as a leader with his band Chimera for Zorn’s Tzadik label and now pursues a more groove-oriented path with Topaz , his debut for Siam Records. Drawing on such varied inspiration as Earth, Wind & Fire (“Verdine,” “Shining”) and Eric Dolphy (“Hat and Beard,” “Something Sweet, Something Tender”), Friedlander and bandmates—alto saxophonist Andy Laster, electric bassist Stomu Takeishi, and his brother Satoshi on percussion—arrive at a striking blend of structure and improv that is at once abstract and accessible.

“I wanted to have fun with this group,” says Erik, “and I really had to fight myself to keep it simple. In fact, when I started writing for this band I made a rule: the music would have to fit on one page, because I had been doing these three and four page charts with Part A and Part B. But with Topaz I wanted to make it more concise, less complicated structures. I just wanted to get out front and blow, to really show what the cello can do.”

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