Erik Friedlander's American Road Trip
Erik Friedlander is best known as the spirited cellist in John Zorn’s various string ensembles—most notably Bar Kokhba, the Masada String Trio, and the Masada String Sextet—but his solo work here (with some shrewd overdubs, occasionally on tuning forks) reveals a new level of virtuosity and a wider range of emotional depth. He sometimes plucks the strings in the style of a jazz bassist or guitarist, combining that with a modern classicist’s sense of harmony—Copland’s open chords but also Crumb’s gnarly grit—and rhythmic nods toward early folk, blues, and (yes, a little bit) jazz.
Above all, Friedlander evokes a palpable sense of time passed and landscape rumbled through. His compositions, at first, seem little influenced by his father’s style; they don’t roam in the same terrain of irony and social commentary. But listen further, and another family trait shines through: the uncanny potency of the well-placed detail. It’s how the slightest juxtapositions reveal so much about a place and a people. In the father’s photos, it’s the intersection of, say, a road sign, a telephone pole, and an old man ambling across a street. In the son’s music, it’s the convergence of a flatted third, a major-seventh chord, and a spritz of reverb.
Last week, I wrote about Maria Schneider, who also has an uncanny knack for translating the sensation of journey into music. Schneider composes her jazz symphonies from an aerial perspective—they have the whish of sky dives, eagle soars, balloon rides. Friedlander keeps his grip on the road. You sense the vistas and the sunsets, but also the bumps, the swerves, the lightning storms, and the wolf howls.