The seeds for Topaz were sown in 1996 when Erik Friedlander was scoring the dances for his wife, Lynn Shapiro's New York show, which he later performed with Andy Laster and Stomu Takeishi. There was enough empathy between them to inspire Friedlander to write some new tunes. But there was something missing: they needed more rhythmic complexity. Takeishi suggested that they ask his percussionist brother Satoshi to sit in. He did, and the pieces fell into place.
This is the Topaz quartet's fourth CD. The music focuses on African rhythms, but Freidlander goes beyond this to gather motifs of the pan-Arab/African region. And while the beat may be pumped, Friedlander does not forsake atmosphere, in which he saturates his compositions. In doing so, he makes this album catch the light.
Friedlander is a cellist who gets the most out of his instrument. His bowing is deep and draws all the pith and passion, driving emotion right into the soul of each composition. "A Dangerous Game" is as fine a testimony as any. The vibrancy and the shadings he invests in his playing as he navigates the range of the cello are strong creative forces. And what begins as warm and coaxing, in marked melodic sonority, soon turns into an animated conversation among the voices of the band where form is scuttled.
Percussion and cello offer an enticing look into "Chanting." Takeishi sets up the rhythm and Friedlander plays with singular warmth, letting the melody wash across and soothe. Laster adds the final lure with a more pronounced, incendiary path to offer contrast. Shifting meters mark "Howling Circle," which has plenty of free movement; Freidlander changes path and scope with high frequency. For the listener, there is no gainsaying which way his muse will lead, but the Takeishi brothers have that well ingrained in their anticipation. An angular trajectory from Laster is the final tantaliser on this intensely satisfying tune.