Erik Friedlander, Playing the Cello with Pluck
Listen to Friedlander in Studio 4A with Jacki Lyden
The masters of cello have learned how to wrench mournful, longing sounds from their instruments, with the tug and stab of a bow across the four fat strings. But Erik Friedlander has a different approach: he strums and plucks the strings more than he bows them.
On Block Ice & Propane, he offers pieces that he says were inspired by the family road trips he took as a child with his father (the illustrious photographer Lee Friedlander) at the wheel.
Friedlander recently joined Jacki Lyden in NPR's Studio 4A, cello in hand.
Erik Friedlander: 'Sifting the Shoals of Time'
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Cellist Erik Friedlander's music, which I had never had the pleasure of encountering before, was moody and ethereal. In college, I had studied the gritty photographs of his father, Lee Friedlander; and growing up in a small town, they spoke to that roadside spirit I have always carried. But Erik's music was also, literally, transporting.
His album, Block Ice & Propane, is dedicated to road trips taken West with his family. Instantly, I was back to my own road trips taken with my own highly dysfunctional family, in which road trips were a metaphor for salvation.
As I closed my eyes and listened to him perform "King Rig," I was back on the highway. It is wonderful to watch musicians slip away into their work. In this case, we were literally going somewhere — heading down the highway past the lost American iconography (i.e., pie shops and jack-rabbit plaster casts at wild west stores) everyone seems to cherish so much.
With every chord he plucks, Friedlander's music rises and falls in an almost physical way. I think this may be the first time someone ever performed for me in his socks. And of course, there is nothing more wonderful than to sit and chat with a solo player. We might have been two people meeting in a park.
I especially had to laugh over his composition "Airstream Envy." If you do not know what an Airstream is, it is an old aluminum trailer, which is now a collector's item. We did not have an Airstream — we had an Avion — but it was the same principle: a silver dirigible hurtling toward dying light. And if you were headed for the mountains, boy, I did feel sorry for people like Erik, who had to sleep in campers atop trucks, or worse, tents.
Block Ice & Propane contains ballads and hymns to a life most Americans could make common cause with, along with people who relate to what is most nomadic in America. The music is rooted but searching, sifting the shoals of time with the goals of miles passed; and when Friedlander played, time and miles fell away. I like being out on the road, and he took me there.
More About Erik Friedlander
Friedlander started playing guitar at age 6 and added cello two years later. He began formal lessons at 12. He continued his musical studies at Columbia University in 1978. Upon graduation, he spent the next decade refining his cello technique through long hours of practice, supporting himself by playing in various orchestras and Broadway shows, recording commercial music for jingles and movies, and doing session work with artists like Laurie Anderson, Courtney Love's band, Hole, and Dar Williams.
He came into his own in the 1990s as he became an integral part of New York City's downtown jazz scene, including John Zorn, Dave Douglas and Ikue Mori. Friedlander also has diverse studio credits with The Mountain Goats, Paula Cole and Kelly Clarkson.