Erik Friedlander – Artemisia

Posted: 20 February 2019 in Albums
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SkipStone – SKST024

Christopher Nosnibor

Pun unintended, there’s something groovy about releasing an album as a triple-deck of 10” records. I was never averse to getting up and turning a record over or changing the disc, even though some releases do take the piss a bit in terms of making work by pressing just one four-minute track into a side of a 12” on an album release. But with the 12 tracks clocking in around six or seven minutes apiece and with two per side, Artemisia seems to balance the vinyl experience and the practicalities of playing records.

Artemisia is by turns tranquil and volatile, and this makes sense in context of the album’s inspiration, whereby, as the press release quippingly quotes that cellist Erik Friedlander distills (sic) the brain-bending powers of absinthe, and the darkness of its murky past into his latest project’.

While perhaps one of the most famous works of art inspired by absinthe is Degas’ L’Absinthe (1875-6), followed maybe by Manet’s The Absinthe Drinker (c.1859), it’s Picasso’s absinthe glass sculptures which captured Friedlander’s imagination in 2015 when he visited MOMA.

“The glasses were pretty… kind of innocent on first glance, but as I looked more closely, I found a dangerous side. The front of each glass is exposed – torn away to show its insides. It seemed like Picasso was saying this is what happens to you when you drink absinthe,” says Friedlander. This viewing spurred Erik, who’s played with a host of artists spanning The Mountain Goats, John Zorn, Dave Douglas, and Courtney Love, into ‘an exploration of absinthe’s mysterious history: beneath a glamorous veneer in 19th century Paris lurked accusations of hallucinatory properties and elusive effects that created an atmosphere of addiction and demise’.

That absinthe has – or ever had – hallucinogenic properties appears to be a myth, but the romantic notion of the drink’s properties proliferate in art and writing, and Friedlander’s jazz-orientated representation of the drink and its history is intriguing and at times quite hypnotic. Take, for example the sparsely-arranged, exploratory ‘La Fee Verte’ with its sporadic percussion and mournful strings.

Friedlander’s cello is augmented by a band of collaborators, which includes pianist Uri Caine, bassist Mark Helias, and drummer Ches Smith, and certainly, his cello takes something of a back seat, or at least occupies a less dominant position in these varied compositions which range from the buoyant, focused and direct, to wandering experimental works.

AA

Erik Friedlander – Artemisia

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