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Erik Friedlander: Claws & Wings

Troy Collins By

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How does one deal with the loss of a loved one? For many artists, expressing remorse through their work is a normal, sometimes necessary, part of the grieving process. Creative improvising musicians, like renowned cellist Erik Friedlander, are no exception.

Lynn Shapiro, Friedlander's wife of 22 years (and an award winning choreographer and writer in her own right), died in November 2011 after a long bout with breast cancer. Just days after her passing Friedlander tore a ligament in his thumb during a biking accident, effectively sidelining him for months. Less than a year later however, Friedlander returned to composing with Claws & Wings, an album-length elegy to his late wife. The session is unique in Friedlander's discography, not only for its highly personal subject matter, but because of its atypical electro-acoustic instrumentation and lineup.

Most of Friedlander's previous ensemble recordings have been acoustically-based, band-oriented documents; from Chimera and Topaz to the Broken Arm Trio and Bonebridge, electronics have normally been limited to the inclusion of an amplified bass in the cellist's male-dominated working groups. For this unusual set, Friedlander is joined by two of the Downtown scene's most remarkable female improvisers—pianist Sylvie Courvoisier and electronic percussionist Ikue Mori. Courvoisier's adroit virtuosity provides the perfect accompaniment to Friedlander's sinuous lyricism, her neo-classical technique finding sympathetic accord in the leader's straightforward approach. Mori, on the other hand, is the date's wildcard, conjuring a kaleidoscopic array of beguiling textures from her laptop that imbue the proceedings with a surreal, cinematic air.

The lengthy two-part opener, "Frail As A Breeze," is prototypical, gracefully juxtaposing aleatoric impressionism and harmonious thematic variations with a classical formalism that resonates with the emotional clarity of popular music. Alternating between despair and optimism, the brooding "Dreams Of Your Leaving" unfolds as a shadowy pointillist meditation, while the winsome "Dancer" is the opposite, a nimble contrapuntal duet between Friedlander's balletic pizzicato and Courvoisier's pirouetting filigrees, subtly underscored by Mori's ethereal flourishes. The episodic "Swim With Me" encapsulates an even greater range of emotion. Seamlessly alternating between darkness and light, the tune's rich chiaroscuro is exemplified by the striking contrast between Courvoisier's spiky opening gambit and Friedlander's resolutely sonorous arco.

Ultimately, Claws & Wings conveys a sense of reconciliation in the ascending melody of the uplifting closer "Cheek To Cheek," confirming this recording as a heartfelt elegy whose poignantly unvarnished musings transcend the sadness of the event that inspired it.

Track Listing: Frail As A Breeze (Part 1); Frail As A Breeze (Part 2); Dreams Of Your Leaving; Dancer; Reaching Back; Swim With Me; Insomnia; Cheek To Cheek.

Personnel: Erik Friedlander: cello; Sylvie Courvoisier: piano, spinet; Ikue Mori: laptop.

Title: Claws & Wings | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Skipstone Records

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