A Relentlessly Interesting, Tuneful, Paradigm-Shifting Solo Cello Album by Erik Friedlander
Cellist/composer Erik Friedlander is a familiar face from John Zorn’s circle. His previous album, Nighthawks, was an unexpectedly jaunty, bouncy cello jazz response to the devastation of Hurricane Sandy in New York, seemingly a tribute to this city’s ability to bounce back. His latest album, Illuminations – inspired jointly by Bach and a recent exhibit of medieval illuminated Jewish manuscripts – is quite a change, a stark solo suite of themes and variations. The album is streaming at Bandcamp; Friedlander’s playing the album release show tonight, April 26 at around 7 PM at Dixon Place Theatre at 161 Christie St. on the Lower East Side. Cover is $15
Where Bach’s cello suites more often than not use French dance forms as a stepping-off point, Friedlander’s architecture looks toward Renaissance vocal music – to a point, anyway. The music is far more kinetic than, say, Thomas Tallis, but every bit as haunting, if it’s more tersely tuneful than otherworldly. Much as the individual tracks will go on for six or seven minutes at a clip, there’s a lot going on within them.
The stary, wary introductory theme gives way to a baroque-flavored dance, followed by a pulsing, raga-esque passage. The Middle East is evoked frequently throughout the darker sections here, first in an expansive pizzicato interlude with hints of Armenian and Indian music as well.
A plaintive minor-key theme takes on elements of the baroque and also Indian allusions as it goes on. Friedlander hits a point where it seems he’s improvising, plucking his way toward the top of the fingerboad with some lively spirals. Evocations of Middle East and North Africa mingle with a circular groove straight out of Steve Reich; then Friedlander mashes up acidically rhythmic John Zorn and stately Bach.
From there the suite returns to the Levant, runs through a tongue-in-cheek exchange of plucked and bowed voices and then picks up with an elegant sway, another instance where Friedlander mingles medieval Europe with Orientalisms and makes it all seem perfectly natural. Solo cello works are rare to begin with; ones this interesting, eclectic and chock-full of tunes are rarer still. Fans of Middle Eastern, classical music and jazz should give this one a spin.