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Erik Friedlander - Prowl

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Artist: Erik Friedlander

Album: Prowl

Label: Cryptogramophone

Review date: Apr. 5, 2006

Erik Friedlanderís last release was a solo effort, 2004ís excellent Maladror, a work that found Friedlander reacting musically to selected works by Isidore Ducasse. The cellist hasn't been sedentary these past few years; heís been working in new groups of his own direction, as well as performing as a sideman to artists as diverse as John Zorn, John Vanderslice and vocalist Chris McNulty. But he also returned to his Topaz quartet, with whom he released three albums between 1999 and 2003. Prowl is the latest in the series, laid down in a 48-hour span in Los Angeles. The schedule was likely quite hectic, but the resultant music feels anything but.

The bulk of Prowl was composed by Friedlander, and the album bears his name, but, within the albumís performance, heís not such a prominent force. Andy Laster, on alto sax and clarinet, usually finds his way to the forefront, in terms of both the albumís production and his role as Friedlanderís melodic foil. The Takeishi brothers, Stomu and Satoshi, on electric bass and percussion, respectively, provide the prominent rhythms. And while Friedlanderís compositions retain a congenial and approachable air, the Takeishis are often more active that it first appears.

The disc is a smooth affair, so much so that it can be off-putting, and sometimes the more interesting interactions of its participants can be masked by the albumís sleek veneer. Even when theyíre busy, Topaz go to work with a straightforward, simplistic verve, the sort of panache which makes everything sound easy. This is a credit to their professionalism and talent, no doubt, but Prowl just might benefit from some ragged edges. The disc can be downright beautiful, but when things become more boisterous, the music never seems to truly let go, and the energy of the music never leaves the realm of the ďcoolĒ; and it would have been a much-needed vacation. Friedlander and Lasterís melodic highlights, twisting paths played in unison, are tightly wound, cleanly plotted and played. The Takeishis, not simply slaves to the rhythm, lace Prowl with their own flourishes, but seemingly always with an eye on the more structured path to which theyíll soon return.

In some senses, itís hard to find much wrong with Prowl. Itís a tastefully and carefully composed album, executed spotlessly and produced with a crystalline shine. But, even if Topazís aim was such a polished pearl, that doesnít mean that the disc wouldnít benefit from a more transparent exhibit of the sweat, energy and determination that undoubtedly went into its creation. Perhaps itís just the cynicís distrust of anything this close to perfection.

By Adam Strohm

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