Cellist and composer Erik Friedlander lost his wife of many years, dancer and choreographer Lynn Shapiro, to breast cancer in 2011. She’d been diagnosed a decade earlier, and Friedlander says music became a place of vital release for him as her condition worsened. “During the difficult years, I did take refuge in working,” he says. “It was a place where I could make the rules; where I could control what I could control.” In a bit of irony so precise that Friedlander calls it “almost comical,” he lost access to that refuge just a week after his wife’s death.
“I have a 15-year-old daughter. We had an argument before she went to school, and she walked out, slammed the door and left her lunch on the table,” Friedlander says. “So I thought it would be a good opportunity to sort of mend the wound of the argument: I grabbed the lunch and got on my bicycle. And it was a little rainy outside, and I slipped off and absolutely tore, completely, a ligament in my left thumb. So I was really left without any outlet.” The injury took months to heal, during which Friedlander had plenty of time to think; the new album Claws & Wings is his first since that difficult period in his life. Friedlander recently spoke with NPR’s Arun Rath about finding his way back to a place of creativity. Hear more of their conversation at the audio link.
DownBeat October Editor’s Pick:
Erik Friedlander‘s Claws and Wings
On Claws & Wings, cellist and composer Erik Friedlander has crafted a complex elegy to his late wife, Lynn Shapiro, a choreographer and writer who passed away from breast cancer in 2011. Throughout this eight-song program, you can feel his loss, anger and pain. Each composition has an absolute truth that came at a steep price; there is no forced resolution here. It’s as if Friedlander is still working through his emotions, and might be for a very long time. This is apparent on “Frail As A Breeze,” the opening tune, which is performed in two parts. The compositions feature Friedlander picking and bowing—sometimes quietly with sorrow, sometimes powerfully with fury—but always effectively conveying the inner turmoil surrounding his loss. The sense of trying to find explanations where none exist is heightened by Friedlander’s collaborators on this project: Sylvie Courvoisier on piano and Ikue Mori on electronic percussion and laptop. Courvoisier adds a minimalist’s touch with a well-placed note, chord or flurry at just the right time. Mori’s sonics give these songs an otherworldliness, almost a sense of trying to communicate with someone who’s no longer there. On “Dancer,” there are moments that sound like electronic waterfalls, swoops and wails while Friedlander plucks a melody that tries to be joyful, but can’t completely commit to that joy. “Insomnia” raises the demons of a mind in overdrive trying to deal with the situation at hand with passages that end abruptly and silences pierced by slaps, squalls and sirens. I especially like the album’s closing number, “Cheek To Cheek,” because Friedlander could have chosen to close out with an uplifting tune, essentially saying, “Everything’s going to be all right.” But he takes a road less traveled. It’s a song that refuses to take sides on how his future will be. With a beautifully slow, measured melody, Friedlander conveys the message that this is where he is now—it’s a akin to a shrug that says, “What else can I do?” Very few artists could write such an honest, embracing memoir, especially without uttering a single word. That is the true beauty of Claws & Wings. I must confess that I had trouble writing about this record. Like so many of us who have seen a loved one struggle through breast cancer, this album hits very close to home. It is difficult to find the right words to effectively describe the brilliance and depth of this music. –Frank Alkyer
Additional Reviews of Claws And Wings
SomethingElse Reviews! by S. Victor Aaron
AllAboutJazz.com by Troy Collins