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Improvising his way out of a trap.

Byline: Fred Crafts The Register-Guard

The trouble with musical improvisation is that it is next to impossible to recreate, as cellist Erik Friedlander discovered while preparing for his current West Coast concert tour in support of his new CD, "Maldoror," a totally improvised tour de force.

"I started learning stuff from the record, then I realized that the whole idea of the record was this spontaneous creation - improvising," he says.

"To re-create the record fell a little bit short of really doing a service to what the record really was about," he says.

As a result, when Friedlander, a leading figure in New York's downtown scene for more than a decade, performs at The Shedd on Tuesday, he will largely ignore "Maldoror" and work off tunes by the likes of Arthur Blythe, Eric Dolphy, John Zorn, Carlos Santana and Dave Brubeck.

But he'll also do spontaneous improvisations (some based on the wicked black humor poems in ``Maldoror'').

Friedlander's latest CD is nothing if not spontaneous.

It's a solo outing whose 10 selections were inspired by poems in the surrealist collection "Chants du Maldoror" by the 19th century poet Isidore Ducasse (aka Comte de Lautremont).

The CD was recorded in Berlin, where Friedlander was recording a cello and piano piece by composer/producer Michael Montes.

At the end of the session, Montes announced there was enough recording studio time left to make another record.

He gave the surprised Friedlander the poems on separate sheets of paper.

Friedlander read one, thought about it for a moment or two, called for the recorder to be turned on and flew into improvising. No planning. No musical sketches. Nothing.

"We were done in about an hour," he says.

Several months later, Friedlander, 43, finally heard what he had created and found it to be "a very cohesive statement."

"It was a good time for me to be doing it," he says. "It was very refreshing. I was under a certain kind of pressure with the record button going down. It felt like a performance."

The final product is a testament to Friedlander's long-standing commitment to improvising - an area where he is not only a pioneer but one of the genre's most distinguished practitioners.

"I so believe in the idea of improvisation," he says. "I like the risk of putting oneself out on the line like that."

How did Friedlander, who grew up playing classical music in symphony orchestras, come to be so keen on improvising?

The moment occurred while he was running from recording sessions to doing commercials to playing in orchestras to playing in Broadway musicals.

"I was swamped with work that wasn't satisfying me," he says. "I was a creative musician. I had funneled myself into a trap."

Enamored with jazz, Friedlander tried playing in jazz combos but the cello never really fit in.

"Jazz is music that was built around the piano, guitar guard and saxophone. It takes a tremendous effort to create the correct phrasing and sound (on the cello), and, in the end, I'm not sure it's authentic in any way," he says.

And the longer he listened to jazz horn and saxophone players, the more he realized that "they sounded 20 times, 100 times, more in the spirit of jazz than I would spending hundreds and hundreds of hours trying to develop my jazz phrasing.

"I came to think that in order to improvise and to be part of the jazz situation, it had to have a much more modern approach, and it had to have an approach that is very much in the instrument and might not necessarily sound very much like jazz," he says.

"I'm still wrestling with it," he notes.

Meantime, Friedlander continues in jazz.

He has recorded six albums as a leader and was named a "rising star" in the 2003 Downbeat Magazine jazz critics poll.

Highly influential to him has been his work with avant garde saxophonist/composer John Zorn, whose improvisational styles took him in a new direction.

"I always wanted to be relevant," he says. "I'm doing what improvisers always did, which is to take popular music and weave into them their personality."

"Maldoror," which Friedlander agrees sounds more like a contemporary classical album than what is generally thought of as jazz, is a statement of how far he has come on his musical journey.

"It's an honest statement of what I'm about, which is about trying to find where the cello fits," he says. `It's not like I'm going to arrive at some point and say, `OK, I've figured it out. This is what A-B-C can do, D and F you can't do.'

`It's not the arrival, it's the journey. It's the process that's interesting.

``I'm bringing that process to the audience and saying, `OK, check this out with me and we'll see what works.' '

Fred Crafts can be reached at 338-2575 or fcrafts@guardnet .com.


Erik Friedlander

What: Famed New York cellist gives a concert of composed and improvised works

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

Where: The John G. Shedd Institute for the Arts' Chapel, 285 W. Broadway

How much: $15, through the OFAM box office (687-6526, 800-248-1615)


Erik Friedlander was trained classically, and then became fascinated by jazz. But he felt the cello didn't fit into traditional jazz, so he began forging his own path.
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Title Annotation:Entertainment
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jun 6, 2004
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