Erik Friedlander: Spinning Plates

Whether accompanying John Zorn, Laurie Anderson or Fred Hersch, Erik Friedlander has exhibited a complex knowledge of the cello that has placed him at the vanguard of both improvisational jazz and contemporary classical music. Named after the incident that prompted Oscar Pettiford to begin playing the cello, Friedlander’s 2008 release Broken Arm Trio continues his progressive vision for the cello in the 2000s. A fine example of his vision is the album’s opening track “Spinning Plates.”

Friedlander combines a swinging melody and an unyielding rhythm section to secure his musical statement. During his solo from :33-1:30, Friedlander keeps the energy going with lengthy arpeggios and lively themes. Sarin’s sometimes spasmodic performance keeps Friedlander’s solo fresh with Dunn going back and forth from rhythmic to melodic roles whenever he sees fit. Friedlander punctuates his melodies with wonderfully executed double-stops at 1:40 which spice up the arrangement and allow Dunn to improvise. The double-stops are a welcome accompanying device as opposed to a walking bassline or a more traditional chordal playing. A true testimony to the achievement of a modern cello giant.

September 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Fred Lonberg-Holm: And You Smile

Fred Lonberg-Holm straddles the line between jazz and experimental music. After studying with Anthony Braxton and Morton Feldman, Lonberg-Holm began to establish himself in the New York avant-garde music scene. After his move to Chicago in the late 1990s, Lonberg-Holm increased his visibility with performances with Peter Brotzmann’s Tentet and Ken Vandermark. With his 2007 effort Terminal Valentine, Lonberg-Holm offers ten compositions that display a wide range of styles. One of the album’s highlights is “And You Smile”.

Beginning with a gorgeous arco passage, Londberg-Holm starts with a legato phrase before transitioning into a disjointed sounding melodic figure. What is most interesting about his sound is how easily he can change his expressions throughout the piece, at times sounding like a classical cellist and at other times resembling a free jazz saxophonist. The dynamic between the three musicians is quite palpable, with the solid rhythmic design of Roebke and Rosaly further augmenting Lonberg-Holm’s sophisticated performance. An essential addition to the current state of improvisational cello.

September 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Heath Brothers: Nostalgia

Percy Heath is a musical titan whose work has graced countless albums. Percy replaced Ray Brown in the Modern Jazz Quartet and performed with the MJQ for the better part of twenty years before teaming up with his equally noteworthy brothers Jimmy and Albert. On the 1997 release As We Were Saying…, Percy demonstrates his cello virtuosity on the Fats Navarro bop classic “Nostalgia.”

The song begins with Mark Elf and Albert Heath performing with a light, breezy feel while Percy performs the melody with slight decorations and inflections. Percy’s solo is noteworthy for the way he phrases his ideas, carefully picking notes in order to suffice the chord change at hand as well as to complete his melodic concept. For the last chorus, Jimmy performs the melody with Percy responding to his performance by playing four-note phrases to contrast the melody. For the last A section, both Jimmy and Percy play the melody together in unison ending the song a strong note. A fine song from an under-appreciated ensemble.

September 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Bill Frisell: Little Brother Bobby

Hank Roberts’ sound incorporates the diverse styles of jazz, classical, rock and folk. As a student at the Berklee School of Music, Hank was able to hone and sharpen his performance expertise, creating an original improvisational style. Upon relocating to New York City in the 1980s, he began an association with Bill Frisell, which continues today.. Roberts made his debut with Frisell on the guitarist’s album Lookout for Hope, which featured the song “Little Brother Bobby,” a tour de force that showcases his contributions to contemporary jazz cello.

The song exhibits Frisell’s reverb-soaked tone, which works brilliantly with Roberts’ smooth melodic resonance. Roberts displays a lyrical performance style that contains equal parts avant-garde, classical and traditional folk methods. The overall quality of his tone remains the same throughout the subtle shifts in tempo and character. Though Baron sometimes supplies discordant rhythmic patterns, the interaction between Frisell and Roberts is what makes the song flourish and thrive, with Hank performing with a more legato technique when Frisell is displaying a more staccato sound. The subsequent rhythmic counterpoint enhances the overall excitement of the piece and is a testament to the talents of Hank Roberts.

September 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Dave Holland: Life Cycle-Resolution

By the early 1980s, bassist Dave Holland had already cut his teeth with a who’s who of jazz superstars including Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and Stan Getz. In the late 1960s, Holland began to play the cello while working with the group Circle. In 1982, he released the album Life Cycle, his first album of unaccompanied cello compositions. As the last section of a five-part suite, “Resolution” is a brilliant example of the capabilities of the modern unaccompanied cello.

Holland begins the piece with an exciting arco passage that calls to mind the compositions of an early influence, Béla Bartók. The arco phrase comes to a sudden halt at 1:05 where Dave switches to pizzicato without losing any intensity. The pizzicato passage easily segues into a bluesy section beginning at 2:39 where Holland fully evokes the textures of the blues with the simple addition of minor thirds. The song captures more emotions than entire albums can, with the cello being the instrument to accomplish such a feat.

September 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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David Eyges: Crossroads

Alongside Abdul Wadud, David Eyges refined the presence of the cello in smaller ensembles. Originally trained at the Manhattan School of Music, Eyges heard blues musicians such as John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters after leaving college and as a result, he developed an earthy, blues-based style. The title composition from his 1981 album Crossroads is a perfect example of Eyges’ unique style.

Eyges begins the song by performing a motif with strong emphasis on beats one and three giving the entire song a rock-like feel. Eyges displays a great rhythmic interplay with the ensemble, displaying more of a solid accompaniment role than Murray. The relationship between Eyges and Lancaster is of special importance with the two men developing a call and response pattern early on, resulting in an exciting push and pull element throughout. Murray also contributes to the push and pull effect, switching between an even pulse on the ride cymbal to a swing feel. This change in feel interrupts the atmosphere at times, resulting in ebbs and flow with the rhythm throughout the song. These interruptions keep Eyges and Lancaster on their toes, allowing them to experiment with different phrasings and ornamentations.

September 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Julius Hemphill: Body

As one of the few jazz musicians to play only the cello (as opposed to doubling on bass) Abdul Wadud is equally versed in both classical and jazz styles. Wadud’s resume includes stints with everyone from the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra to Arthur Blythe. His work reached a particular peak of experimentation on the song “Body” from Julius Hemphill’s 1980 album Flat-Out Jump Suite. Wadud firmly grasps the funky feel of the song by performing with a raw bluesy touch. Wadud’s wide and distinct sound stands out when he plays in unison with Hemphill and Dara. The song goes through several tempos and textures, with Wadud adding slight ornamentations during each change. When the song moves into a swing feel, Abdul goes back and forth between a walking bass line and chordal accompaniment. Though his is the only stringed instrument in the ensemble, his performance is the heart of the song and an excellent addition to contemporary jazz cello style.

September 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Sam Jones: Visitation

With the application of the cello into the jazz ensemble, many used the instrument to explore new melodic terrain. Sam Jones took it in a different direction by playing walking bass lines on the cello. Sam’s technique of using the cello as an accompanying instrument can be best represented by the title song from his album “Visitation”.

Jones and Berg play the melody in unison with their tones blending seamlessly into one cohesive sound. Jones displays a straightforward, yet intricate touch during his solo from :37-1:53 by taking small ideas from the melody and incorporating them into his solo. Equally impressive are Jones’ accompanying skills, which he modifies depending upon which member is soloing. For Berg, he tends to stick to the root of the chord and for Hino he performs higher on the neck in order to match the timbre of the trumpet. At times, Jones’ slides sound more like a fretless electric bass than a cello. A great song by a great band, “Visitation” is highly recommended for its use of the cello in modern jazz accompaniment.

September 09, 2009 · 0 comments

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Eric Dolphy: Out There

For his second album for Prestige, Eric Dolphy added Ron Carter to his group. The instrumentation of the group was similar to the Chico Hamilton quintet, of which Dolphy had been a member. Carter was originally a cellist, but switched to bass as a teenager. His cello technique was still strong, as witnessed by his performance on the Dolphy album’s title tune.

Dolphy and Carter begin the song by performing the melody in unison. Carter’s bowing style gives his sound a primal quality, which complements Dolphy’s acidic tone. Carter holds the last note of the melody as he begins his solo, and he manipulates that note for nearly half a minute with a variety of classical bowing techniques. Dolphy provides an ear-stretching alto solo before Duvivier’s exploratory solo. “Out There” remains an essential recording1 in the catalog of Dolphy and modern jazz cello repertory.

September 09, 2009 · 0 comments

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Ray Brown: Ain't Misbehavin'

Ray Brown's 1960 album Jazz Cello was one of the first albums in mainstream jazz to be devoted entirely to the cello. Featuring a full horn and rhythm section, Brown treated the cello as a fully realized melodic instrument. On the standard “Ain’t Misbehavin,” he proved that the cello could be featured in a big band setting. After a brief introduction from the ensemble, Brown plays the melody pizzicato, and embellishes the melody with slight ornamentation. With Russ Garcia's delicate orchestration, the cello cuts through the large instrumentation. Brown plays a soulful solo leaving plenty of space for the band figures. A delightful track from a late lamented jazz master.

September 09, 2009 · 0 comments

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Oscar Pettiford: All The Things You Are

Oscar Pettiford came into prominence during the 1940s through his associations with Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie and Duke Ellington. While working with Woody Herman in 1949, Pettiford suffered a broken arm and found it difficult to play the bass. For rehabilitation purposes, he learned to play the cello and after his recuperation, he played it occasionally on gigs. A shining achievement of his cello technique is his 1959 version of “All The Things You Are.”

Pettiford plays the introduction arco, then Koller enters with the melody. Throughout the first chorus of the song, Pettiford develops a call and response pattern with Koller. During his solo from 1:59-2:52, Pettiford incorporates several techniques including even eighth-note patterns, note bends and slides. Zoller enhances the performance by choosing notes that further develop the contour of Pettiford’s solo. “All The Things You Are” serves as a great addition to the history of the cello in jazz and to Pettiford’s late discography.

September 09, 2009 · 0 comments

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Harry Babasin: These Foolish Things

Throughout the 1940s, Harry Babasin performed with several luminaries of the jazz community including Charlie Barnet, Benny Goodman and Laurindo Almeida. During a break from filming the movie A Song Is Born, Babasin picked up a cello that happened to be on set and enjoyed the timbral quality of the instrument. In order to accommodate himself to the instrument, he tuned the cello in fourths instead of the traditional fifths.

Babasin became the first jazz bassist to double on the cello, recording his first solo on December 3, 1947 with the Dodo Marmarosa Trio. In 1953, Babasin recorded an album with fellow bassist/cellist Oscar Pettiford, further building the profile of the cello in jazz. And in 1957, he showcased his expertise on the instrument with his feature on the song “These Foolish Things.”

After a four bar introduction, Babasin performs a series of brief phrases before building into a longer passage. Babasin employs rhythmic devices on the cello that contrasts with the ballad feel of the song, resulting in a fascinating rhythmic counterpoint. Beginning with his solo at 2:09, he blazes through the changes where he implements straight sixteenth-note phrasing and unexpected double stops then segues into a beautiful coda. A highly recommended track from an early practitioner of the cello in jazz.

September 09, 2009 · 0 comments

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David Eyges: The Captain

Probably the best-known jazz musicians to have performed on cello have been Oscar Pettiford, Ray Brown, Ron Carter, and Dave Holland. However, they were all bassists first and foremost. Few full-time jazz cellists have developed name recognition anywhere approaching that of the four aforementioned, although the casual jazz fan might know of Erik Friedlander, Ernst Reijseger, Hank Roberts, and Abdul Wadud. Wadud and the more obscure David Eyges emerged in the '70's and helped pave the way for the increasing number of jazz cellists that have followed. The group Eyges led with altoist Mark Whitecage played music that brought to mind the alto-cello pairings of Eric Dolphy and Ron Carter, and Julius Hemphill and Wadud. (Eyges himself later had similar collaborations with altoists Byard Lancaster and Arthur Blythe.)

The title tune of Eyges's debut recording, The Captain, draws on influences ranging from country blues to Dolphy and Ornette Coleman. Eyges and Whitecage take the theme in a relaxed unison, bringing out its funky down-home properties, while at the same time bassist Ronnie Boykins' steady ostinato adds a nearly dirge-like quality to it. Meanwhile, Jeff Williams' drums are propulsively filling in the spaces with extended patterns that almost seem to serve as a substitute for a comping piano. Cello and alto then improvise collectively, but very harmoniously as well. Eyges's arco attack alternates between rich long tones and rapidly executed tremolos, and Whitecage simultaneously relies on terse, bursting phrases that are sometimes yearning, sometimes exultant. This music holds up quite well some 32 years later.

July 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Erik Friedlander: Ink

"Ink," in contrast to other, short frenetic tracks on Broken Arm Trio such as "Jim Zipper," lumbers along at a leisurely strut with a blues-like melody. But even on this straight-ahead, slower number, Friedlander is never short on ideas. With his cello tuned higher than a bass and played pizzicato (plucked), Friedlander effectively harmonizes Sarin's bassline, taking the high notes while Sarin goes low. When Sarin performs his syncopated solo, the leader comps, and when the two switch roles, Friedlander goes wild as he's apt to do, only in slow-motion. "Ink" is a lazy tune in attitude only; the musicianship behind it belies its laid-back demeanor.

December 31, 2008 · 0 comments

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Vassilis Tsabropoulos: Melos

Over the years, the rap from some corners against the supposed ECM Records style is that it's too icy, lacking in emotion and drenched with reverb. This never made sense to me, bringing to mind commentary about certain memoirs being too "self-centered." Huh?! It's a memoir! To my ear, the extra "air" in many ECM recordings has always been a strength, a kind of modern jazz minimalist aesthetic. So when Vassilis Tsabropoulos brings forth the piano ostinato that will become this track's harmonic framework, it's no great surprise that Anja Lechner's cello lines seem more like conversational passages than a mere "musically correct" set of notes. It's the ample space between the notes, and their subtle decay, that draws in the ear.

October 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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