Season of Solitude: Erik Friedlander – “Nighthawks” and “Nothing On Earth”


Erik Friedlander photoThe act of artistic creativity is an isolation drill.  There is an art to the solitude, of forging a bond between the artist and their creation, a method of communication so strong and seamless that it becomes instantaneous, bypassing all the doubts and fears and hopes and ephemera careening wildly around the artist’s head.  Ideally, the artist exists in a state of passive confidence, a frame of mind that allows for focused uninhibited expression, fueled by perseverance and drive, softened by the desire to be universally communicative to one beating heart at a time.

It’s often done alone.  Others may become involved at later stages in the creative process, but when that first idea is born, there is an essential solitary nature to its first breath.  And, depending on the nature of the project, that solitude can become like fuel to the artist, spurring on the imagination and the drive to cause its manifestation.  This is no small thing.

2011 ended tragically for cellist Erik Friedlander.  The passing of his wife was followed by an injury that prevented him for months from playing his cello… at a time when he likely needed it most.  That left him plenty of time for contemplation.  Eventually he regained his health and ability to play.  This led to more contemplation, but now armed with his cello to channel his thoughts and emotions.

Erik Friedlander - "Claws & Wings"It led to his late-2013 release Claws & Wings, an album described, in a review on this site, as having “the statuesque beauty of chamber music, the ambient distant warmth of minimalist post-rock, and the wry charm of folk.  […] sometimes taking languorous sighs of harmonic brilliance, sometimes prancing lightly from one note to the next, and sometimes swirling about with the unexpected motion of mist on a stormy eve.”  It was beautiful music created at a time of heavy introspection.  It also signaled the start of a very rich creative period for the cellist.

Isolation and introspection are central themes to the two new Friedlander recordings, Nighthawks and Nothing On Earth.

Erik Friedlander – Nighthawks

Erik Friedlander - "Nighthawks"The parents of Nighthawks are darkness and silence.  The power was out and the city locked away during Hurricane Sandy.  Friedlander wrote the music for Nighthawks while ruminating by candlelight on his own life in a world of darkness, and he expounded upon those thoughts by considering the lives of others lived in a similar environment, in the normalcy of their lives without the oppressive presence of a natural disaster… where being surrounded by people is no guarantee of freedom from isolation.

Your album personnel:  Erik Friedlander (cello), Doug Wamble (guitar), Trevor Dunn (bass), and Michael Sarin (drums).

The opening two tracks are all well and good, but the album comes alive on the third track “Hopper’s Blue House.”  A reference to the classic Edward Hopper painting of strangers at a late-night diner, the melody bends with the grace of moonlight on this rustic tune, simmering with passion.  It’s a sound that carries through much of this beautiful recording… like “Nostalgia Blindside,” with its melody like warped glass, revealing hidden shapes within… a moody ballad breathed out with a Jazz Americana voicing.

Several pieces adopt an up-tempo gait, often with Doug Wamble’s guitar providing the fuel.  The lively “Carom” proceeds right along with an oddly appealing choppy motion, and the seemingly happenstance good fortune that the sounds of percussion land in just the right spots.  “26 Gasoline Stations,” on the other hand, has Wamble out front on electric guitar as the quartet develops a nifty shuffling cadence.

“One Red Candle” and “Poolhall Payback” breathe the same air.  The former is a slowly developing piece that provides a nice opportunity for interplay between Friedlander and Dunn on cello and bass, as well as moments for each to stand solo in the spotlight.  The latter of those two tracks breaks out a down-home twang, and nicely swings back to melody at well-timed moments.

The album closes with “The River,” a song expressed effusively, but with a comportment that speaks more to a life of casual ease.  Sarin is a craftsman on drums, shaping the skewed tempo into a fluid trajectory.  There is something in the way that the quartet comes together on this song reminiscent of how a city wakes at sunrise, flooding the streets, all together at the start of their day… a poetic way of ending an album about the night and the separate lives led within it.

It’s a different kind of isolation reflected in Friedlander’s other 2014 release, Nothing On Earth.

Erik Friedlander – Nothing On Earth

Erik Friedlander - "Nothing On Earth"Originally hired to create the soundtrack to the Michael Angus documentary of the same name, in which photographer Murray Fredericks is followed as he attempts to capture the vast beauty and solitude of the ice caps of Greenland’s landscape, some of Friedlander’s solo cello pieces went unused.  Revisiting those pieces, Friedlander saw an opportunity to reunite them with those compositions used in the film soundtrack.  He developed them for trio, and by combining them with the soundtrack’s solo pieces, it resulted in Nothing On Earth.

Your album personnel:  Erik Friedlander (cello), Satoshi Takeishi (percussion), and Shoko Nagai (accordion, piano, mini-xylophone).

This is an album of two faces.  The solo cello pieces are delivered like lullabies, yet possess an austere grace that speaks more of wakefulness.  The trio pieces adopt a brisker pace even as they register strongly at the serene end of the intensity scale.  Droplets of piano splatter off the surface of cello’s peaceful melody, and percussion is a gentle splash into the harmonic pool of accordion’s warm embrace.

Percussionist Takeishi has a conversational approach to the music, and his instruments speak in a hushed voice, whereas Nagai’s accordion raises up its voice, either to speak the melody or to mirror it.  Friedlander’s cello has a deep resonance throughout, both filling the silence with a gorgeous sound and accentuating the vastness of the silence yet untouched.  The way silence settles in across the length of this recording is as evocative as the way in which the trio goes about dispersing it.

That comfort with silence and isolation have manifested as a string of wonderful recordings, a creative productivity deserving of notice.

Both albums are released on Friedlander’s SkipStone Records.

Explore more of Friedlander’s music on his site.

Nighthawks available 5/20/14 at:  Bandcamp | eMusic | Amazon

Nothing on Earth available at:  Bandcamp | eMusic | Amazon MP3