It's really rare that I run into an album that has a strong emotional effect on me the first time I hear it - maybe once every couple of years. Often it's a case of hearing the right piece of music at the right time, but sometimes the music just plugs directly into my brain in some intangible way. Erik Friedlander's new release, "Claws & Wings," is one of those. I listened to it for the first time on a five-hour bus journey (surely not the perfect time to hear anything!) and I repeated it three times in a row before I could convince myself to switch to one of the other new albums I'd brought along for the ride.
There are few albums I own that convey the composer's message so precisely and so clearly - with just three instruments and some brief track titles, the listener is guided through forty-five minutes of beauty, loneliness, loss, warmth, worry, dreaminess, hope, and hesitation. The more I listen to it, the more I realize how much care and thought went into the recording. One of the things I love about it is the incredible amount of space - the emptiness between the notes somehow emphasizes the loneliness and loss inherent in the music. There are also a few outright gorgeous passages, rich and full, without that sense of emptiness - like the middle section of "Swim with Me" and "Cheek to Cheek." I also love "Frail as a Breeze," with its simultaneous delicacy and urgency. It's a recording that rewards repeated listens and close attention.
Mr. Friedlander plays his cello as evocatively as ever - alternating between using a bow and pizzicato techniques, sometimes layering both on top of each other. Accompanying him are Sylvie Courvoisier on piano (and occasionally spinet) and Ikue Mori on electronics. The piano and cello take turns providing both melody and atmosphere. The electronics add a dreamy, almost underwater feel at times - but occasionally they contribute a certain amount of noise or an unsettlingly "wrong" feeling when some imbalance or anxiety is needed in the piece. It's a perfect trio to perform this music with the right amount of delicacy and empathy.
Highly recommended listening for an introspective evening.