There is a lot going on musically on DIRTY BOXING, and I think it’s all good.  Give it a listen.  You won’t get hurt!

Skipstone Records

Erik Friedlander – Cello;  Uri Caine – Piano;  Mark Helias – Bass;  Ches Smith – Drums


Erik Friedlander – Cello;  Sara Serpa – Voice;  Wendy Eisenberg – Guitar;  Mark Helias – Bass 

I came across a less than laudable review of Erik Friedlander’s DIRTY BOXING.  The reviewer mentioned that the first couple of tracks were exhausting, it was like a fight.  “You’re hit from all sides, the notes evade and return.” I agree with him about the sensation of being bombarded with all the notes, but that is exactly why I love the album.

For the past few years Friedlander has been fascinated with mixed martial arts.  “The sheer intensity with which these athletes challenge themselves in the octagon is captivating.  Performing, in many ways, is about putting yourself to a test, expressing what is important to you, and sharing your passions.  And no one gets hurt in the process.”

The four musicians on DIRTY BOXING are members of Friedlander’s regular band, The Throw.  Well known bandleader, pianist Uri Caine has over 40 albums as a leader and many more as sideman.  He has played with musicians such as Dave Douglas, Arto Lindsay, and John Zorn.  Bassist Mark Helias has played with the original members of Ornette Coleman’s band and many musicians from the AACM.  Drummer Ches Smith has worked with Marc Ribot, Tim Berne, John Zorn, John Tchicai, Mary Halvorson, Dave Holland and others.

The song titles are martial arts terms.  I had to look up most of them.  A sprawl is a defensive technique used to block a takedown attempt. ‘Sprawl’ starts with a pleasantly bowed cello and Helias’s bass sounding like a punching bag being worked over.  Smith’s drums also pack a punch.  Caine plays an exuberant bop piano.  The music pauses, preparing for its next strike.  These musicians are like boxers dancing around a ring.

‘Foot Stomp’ starts with a squeal from the cello, then it bows over the band’s repeating phrases.  The piano and cymbals hammer the same note together before Caine takes off on a exhilarating piano solo.  It can sound like the musicians are in conflict, but they seamlessly reunite.

‘Shrimping’ is like a Baroque dance movement.  The cello strings are plucked in a single note descending phrase, with the piano playing an upward motif, and then the tempo and mood change.  Caine plays an elegant sounding classical piece.  The music turns dissonant, the piano rumbles, until we are back sounding exquisitely refined, like we were at the beginning.

If you’re pinned on the floor by an opponent, “shrimping” is footwork you can use to get away.

Tempo, mood, and dynamic changes weave in and out during ‘D’Arce.’  The whole band pounces on the beginning, then the music becomes minimalist.  Helias’s bass solos amaze.  He holds notes, lets other fly away, bending some, while piano and drums bang away.  More bass, the cello plays pretty, and everybody gets rowdy at the end.  “The D’Arce” is a choke hold, in case you were wondering.

’Submission’ is the prettiest song on the album.  Friedlander’s cello sings under Caine’s gorgeous playing, punctuated by another beautiful bass solo. The drums provide a perfect backdrop for the melancholic mood of the song.  A “submission,” or a tap out, is when you yield to your opponent, resulting in a defeat.

There is a lot going on musically on DIRTY BOXING, and I think it’s all good.  Give it a listen.  You won’t get hurt!

The bonus CD, FLOATING CITY, is very pleasant.  It would make good background music.  It is so far removed from what is on DIRTY BOXING.  I listened to it twice.  I doubt that I will listen to it again.