When you hear the word "cello," what idea pops into your head? I'd love to say that I think of Erik Friedlander. The truth is that my thoughts go to two things: The Living Daylights, which stars Timothy Dalton and Maryam d'Abo, and the Bach Cello Suites.
The former is a campy and fun James Bond film where the cello (and more importantly, the cello case which is used as a sort of chamber-music luge) is a kind of character. The latter is one the the most well-known pieces of solo classical music. My favorite recording was done by Rostropovich (I know, I don't have the Pablo Casals version, so shoot me).
Oddly enough, Friedlander's Prowl can be looked at as the bastard love child of those two completely-at-odds chunks of culture. This works if a) you're willing and able to suspend disbelief (and maybe have a little too much free time on your hands) and b) you can see that music, from both the creation and listening angles, draws from wide and sometimes unrelated areas of experience.
Prowl's compositions are based on a set of African rhythms. A strength here is the amazing sibling combination of brothers Stomu and Satoshi Takeishi. On percussion, Satoshi's sparse, tight drumming plays perfect foil to Stomu's elastic bass lines. Whether they are starting off a tune by slowly building a motif or providing a bed for Andy Laster's horns (alto sax or clarinet) or the leader's cello, the brothers Takeishi are just overflowing with ideas.
The rhythm section, being so integral to Prowl's vibe, brings shades of Jonas Hellborg's work with Trilok Gurtu in John McLaughlin's trio. As a whole, the group (which Friedlander calls "Topaz") varies the emotional tone enough that it spans the distance between the "seriousness" of the aforementioned McLaughlin group to the more heart-on-sleeve approach of John Lurie's Lounge Lizards.
It took just a single listen to Prowl for me to realize that Friedlander was to be added to my Bond/Rostropovich list. The man makes the cello sing... and squeak, growl, groan, shuffle, soar... well, you get the idea. Song to song, the instrument lays out rhythmic structures, melody lines and percussive chord fragments. Bowed, strummed or plucked, the emotion fairly well drips from its strings. Great stuff, especially if your knowledge of the cello doesn't go beyond Yo Yo Ma (relax, Ma-fans, I'm in his camp too).
As adventurous as Erik Friedlander is, I'd be willing to bet that he's never slid down a snowy incline sitting in his cello case. That's OK. Rostropovich probably didn't do it either, and yet he's on my list!