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Album Review

A deceptively smooth recording from the Erik Friedlander Quartet (sometimes going by the name of Topaz), Prowl offers the paradox of complex improvisational music so adroitly executed that its particular virtues might be overlooked by the casual listener. Originally set up by Friedlander as a trio composed of himself on cello, Andy Laster on alto saxophone and clarinet, and Stomu Takeishi on electric bass, Topaz were a deliberate experiment in music-making without a chordal instrument, e.g., keyboard or guitar. However, the absence of rhythmic thrust restricted the energy of the group to the extent that Stomu's brother Satoshi was eventually added as a percussionist. In the past, Friedlander has taken exception to the term chamber jazz — at least in relation to his music. Admittedly, it's a lazy critical term that can be applied to any jazz music that comes across as more cerebral than visceral, as the music on Prowl surely does. However, Prowl's music is far from effete (if that's the basis of Friedlander's objection), nor is it written out and merely re-created (which may also be a sticking point for Friedlander). The nine pieces featured on this CD often involve some very unusual time signatures, but since Friedlander is not adverse to a deep groove, the music has both mental and physical dimensions. Melodically, the pieces reflect all sorts of world elements (Latin, African, klezmer, Dixieland) without self-consciously imitating any particular style or form. Likewise, the deft interaction among the musicians goes well beyond the standard jazz solos with sympathetic accompaniment. The Takeishi brothers do not confine themselves to the role of timekeepers. As evidenced by their interaction on the title piece and several others in the program, they could probably command the listener's attention just as a duo. Stomu's electric bass is involved in an ongoing dialogue with Friedlander's cello. Likewise, Laster's alto sax, in particular, blends with the cello to the extent that it is sometimes impossible to tell where the one stops and the other starts. And while Laster and (of course) Friedlander are masterful soloists, it's clear on this CD that Friedlander has moved well beyond simple virtuosity and has used his compositional skills and the collective talent of his group to capture something much more elusive and valuable. This is music with legs, which reveals new depths and delights even after long exposure. Highly recommended.


Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Cellist Erik Friedlander grew up exposed to R&B and jazz since his father photographed many album covers for Atlantic during the '50s and '60s. During his childhood and high school years, Friedlander was involved in chamber groups, his school orchestra, and a local rock band. He enrolled at Columbia University in 1978 to pursue a music degree, but it wasn't until a year later, upon hearing and speaking with bassist Harvie Swartz, that Friedlander decided to become a professional musician. Shortly...
Full Bio
Prowl, Erik Friedlander
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