Erik Friedlander: Chimera (Avant 57; 63:06: ****)
Cellist Friedlander has assembled an unusual but flexible lineup of cello, bass, clarinet and bass clarinet. His writing emphasizes the strength and versatility of the ensemble by allowing open space for interaction and collective improvisation in duets and other combinations. By mixing and matching strings and clarinets, as on the pensive, pretty Alluvium and the moody Mercy Street, he creates interesting harmonies and textures in support of the soloists, including Chris speed on clarinet, who recalls Jimmy Giuffre in this context. Friedlander (also heard in Dave Douglas' String Group) challenges the audience with thoughtful, but very listenable, ensemble work.
JON ANDREWS, DOWNBEAT
This album marks the recorded debut of Chimera, a quartet headlined by cellist Erik Friedlander. Prior to Chimera, Friedlander has been best known for his work with prominent artists in the jazz/avant-garde music scene, including John Zorn and Joe Lovano. In addition to cello, his new group also features clarinet, double bass and bass clarinet. As one might expect, this unusual combination of instruments lends a dark, subdued quality to the music. While prevalent throughout all of the eight pieces included on the album, the shadowy side is most pronounced in the opening track, Aluvium. This song freely treads the line between chamber jazz and modern classical music, prominently featuring extended passages of silence and solo cello.
The classical comparison also rings true in songs such as Single Whip and Turbine #1, both of which revolve around agitated, atonal themes that wouldn't seem out of place in a Bartok string quartet. However, lest we forget what sort of music we're dealing with here, a couple of the tunes are more openly grounded in jazz tradition. Fekunk, for instance, grooves quite heavily (doubly impressive considering the lack of percussion), and Mercy Street starts with a swinging string pizzicato duo from Friedlander and bassist Drew Gress. The disc even includes a tasty arrangement of Little Niles, in homage to bass/cello legend Oscar Pettiford. This ability to switch freely between "jazz" and "classical" styles, even blending the two into a seamless whole, speaks volumes for the versatility of the ensemble. There are times when it's nearly impossible to discern what has been precomposed and what is being improvised. As all four members of Chimera have extensive experience both as performers and composers, it's little wonder that they click together so perfectly.
Overall, this album makes for a highly engaging, if at times cerebral, listening experience. Audiences valuing high-energy rhythmic repetition and shameless virtuosity above all may come away feeling bored. However, for those who have the patience to listen, Chimera will prove a mesmerizing tour through the dark corridors of modern jazz.-- Alex Slotkin (Daily Texan)