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Erik Friedlander: 'Sifting the Shoals of Time'

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.

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Longtime listeners recognize Jacki Lyden's voice from her frequent work as a substitute host on NPR. As a journalist who has been with NPR since 1979, Lyden regards herself first and foremost as a storyteller and looks for the distinctive human voice in a huge range of national and international stories.
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