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The Breakdown: Floratone, Erik Friedlander

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What's nice about this time of year is that, with the rush of kids back to school, the big labels seem to lay off of releases for a few weeks, which allows the smaller labels to push out some high quality stuff that might otherwise be overshadowed. This week comes two little surprises.

Floratone: The first is this sneaky little one that fans of Bill Frisell should pay very close attention to. A collaboration between the jazz guitarist and drummer Matt Chamberlain, it might seem pretty straight-forward upon first inspection – Frisell doing his Americana-tinged jazz guitar thing and Chamberlain laying down grooves behind him. But look at the names listed with them on the cover and you might begin to realize there's a lot more going on here – both producers Lee Townsend (a Frisell regular) and Tucker Martine are listed up there as members of the group.

Here's where it gets intersting: Frisell and Chamberlain got together to record some material a couple years ago. The two producers then took their material and worked their magic on the recordings, then handed the material back to Frisell and Chamberlain – who then added some more layers. In the end, frequent Frisell-band member, bassist Viktor Krauss dropped in bass on all the tracks while Eyvind Kang added some of his color to the mix on some songs. And what we get is another one of those genre-defying works that Frisell seems to be so closely associated with. It's not jazz, it's not Americana, but it has a strange forward-looking feel about it. This, by the way, is based off of samples I've heard. Frisell has been on a streak lately of great recordings, so I don't doubt this will be a fun listen, given how unusual it is.

Erik Friedlander – Block Ice & Propane: As a jazz cellist, you may not think you've heard Friedlander but you've heard this dude and probably didn't know it, I would bet. He's been all over the music industry backing artists from Dave Douglas and John Zorn to Alanis Morissette and Joss Stone. If you've heard popular music, and even unpopular music, in the past 20 years or so, you've likely heard him somewhere and not known it.

In between all those sessions, he's quietly worked on a fascinating catalog of his own music, from the multi-cultural Topaz group to straight solo albums of just him on cello. This is one of the latter, a disc of solo recordings on which the cellist plays his instrument in pretty much every possible way a stringed instrument could be played – bowed, plucked, and even strummed like a guitar. While that makes for interesting listening for those intrigued by unusual techniques, what should appeal to listeners is how grounded he makes his playing – he is no mere chart-reader.

Friedlander's gift is that he connect emotionally with the listener, and reportedly on Block Ice & Propane he blends his considerable talents in jazz and avant garde with genres not necessarily associated with the cello such as Americana and bluegrass. It kind of sounds like a nightmare, but the little I've heard prove exactly the opposite. This is likely to be one of the more intriguing listens among jazz's 2007 releases.

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