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"The cello is the most perfect instrument aside from the human voice." Zuill Bailey
"The cello is like a beautiful woman who has not grown older, but younger with time, more slender, more supple, more graceful." Pablo Casals
The quotes above, both by cellists, suggest the very warm qualities of this most intimate musical instrument. Ron Carter, Oscar Pettiford and Fred Katz used the instrument in jazz but it's taken a number of years, and musicians like the two featured on these recordings, for it to come back into its own in jazz and improvisational settings.
Erik Friedlander has been a pioneer for many years, veteran of the Downtown scene and of bands led by John Zorn, Laurie Anderson and even Courtney Love! He's a true virtuoso and can dazzle with technique but, as this new installment of the Masada Songbook indicates, he's got a personal voice and uses it to tell a vital story.
Volac (in theology the Great President of Hell) is a stunning recital that exposes a world of colors and textures; it is immediately accessible while adventurous and rich with new meaning.
The work opens very much in the spirit of Bachbrooding bowed lines that inhabit the world of the spirit. Following is another mini-recital with a lovely pizzicato segment suggesting something Spanish. The music and the playing dazzle with powerful pyrotechnics and exquisite expressiveness. Friedlander fully conveys the Jewishness in the music but, as the composer seems to have intended, as a means to open up new musical vistas. It is unclear how much improvisatory handiwork Friedlander brings to the music but he expertly blurs the line between the written and the non-written. The recorded sound is stunning, reveling in both individual clarity and overarching scope.
Rufus Cappadocia's Songs for Cello begins with a drone effect via his amplified cello. This music is less traditional than that found on the Friedlander disc but as personal and communicative.
After the opening "Prayer," Songs for Cello continues with sounds colored by the artists' study of African and Eastern musics. It's a hypnotic chant that finds the composer plucking furiously for both percussive and melodic effect, moving relentlessly until fading into silence.
The music keeps returning to primal sounds perfect for his custom-built five-string electric cello. Close listening reveals a sense of the blues, a folk tradition, intimacy with classical techniques and, of course, the study of other creative musical languages. Like Friedlander, Cappadocia is an accomplished technician but he uses that technique to expand what's possible on the instrument in a meaningful way.
Jazz is a continuing revelation. The best show I ever attended was the
Roots Picnic at Penn's Landing in Philadelphia, or was it Robert
Glasper's Experiment at Lincoln Center, or was it Chick Corea with
Brian Blade at Oberlin College? Most of all I enjoy playing guitar and
composing beats with my Brooklyn-based group Space Captain.