Erik Friedlander – Nighthawks [TrackList follows] – Skipstone SSR018 51:57 [5/20/12] ****:
(Erik Friedlander – cello, producer, arranger; Doug Wamble – guitar; Trevor Dunn – bass; Michael Sarin – drums)
Erik Friedlander’s album, Nighthawks, the sophomore release for his Bonebridge quartet, is best heard in the dark. There are various reasons for this. The initial work on the ten tracks began in candlelight, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in September, 2012, when Friedlander’s NYC neighborhood was without power for five days (which he discusses in an online video). An alternative rationale to hearing this with the lights off, without any other distractions, is to become encompassed by Friedlander’s sublime mix of country, jazz, blues and folk influences. Another reason is because the material has a late-night melancholy, akin to the midnight-to-dawn reverie which permeates the Edward Hopper painting which inspired the album’s title.
Living without electricity led Friedlander to other revelations about his then-new project. He clarifies, “I wrote ‘One Red Candle’ and it started me thinking about night places—places where people hang out, seedy places: pool halls, diners, gas stations, train and bus depots.” These themes became the background for Nighthawks and stimulated tunes such as opener, “Sneaky Pete,” (the title refers to a superior pool cue disguised to look like an inferior house pool cue), “Poolhall Payback,” and “26 Gasoline Stations.” Hopper’s iconic artwork, by the way, has motivated other songs and records, including Tom Waits’ 1975 LP Nighthawks at the Diner, which puts Friedlander in fine creative company. Friedlander explains more about his new material, his goals for the undertaking, and other topics during a short, online promotional video which also has some in-studio performances.
Friedlander is adroitly abetted by guitarists Doug Wamble (his résumé involves collaborations with Wynton Marsalis, filmmaker Ken Burns and singer Cassandra Wilson); bassist Trevor Dunn (the newest member of the Nels Cline Singers); and drummer Michael Sarin (who has worked with Ben Allison and trumpeter Dave Douglas; Sarin and Dunn were also in Friedlander’s Broken Arm Trio). Wamble’s Southern-saturated guitar percolates through the winsome, country-flecked “Sneaky Pete,” which elicits comparisons to some of the country/folk songs which featured pedal steel guitar wiz Peter “Sneaky Pete” Kleinow (the Flying Burrito Brothers and extensive credits as a session musician). “Sneaky Pete” is a great start and showcases Friedlander and Wamble’s unusual but engaging cello/guitar combination. Friedlander’s cello on this piece and others exhibits his unique style: often he foregoes a typical bowed approach and instead utilizes a plucking strategy, which provides a different tonality than may be assumed with the cello. The Hopper and country music inclinations come to the fore again on “Hopper’s Blue House,” where Wamble’s pedal steel guitar tone blends nimbly with both arco and softly picked strings, courtesy of the bass and cello. The closer, “The River” may or may not suggest any number of Hopper canvases (he depicted several rivers on easels during his lifetime). Unquestionably, the country-laced cut conjures the feel of a serpentine waterway coursing through hamlets, villages, small towns or farmland.
Another American artist is alluded to during the puckish “26 Gasoline Stations,” named after a book collection of Ed Ruscha’s representations of regional filling stations stretching from California to Oklahoma. Here, Friedlander and his cohorts fuse country, jazz and rock music traces into a grooving selection. Wamble’s swirling electric guitar and Friedlander’s slightly dissonant cello craft an undercurrent of movement, similar to fast cars speeding along dusty pavement heading toward distant city lights. The album’s apex is the lengthy title track, where the foursome replicates the same sense of detail which graces Hopper’s painting. There are bright moments such as Wamble’s higher-register guitar chords. There are duskier elements like Dunn’s lowly-ebbing bass notes. And like Hopper’s imagery, there are subtly unexpected bits. Listeners might notice the close interplay between Dunn’s bass and Friedlander’s cello, how Sarin applies brushes to accent the track’s melodic and rhythmic aspects, and the way a certain amount of repetition generates continuity. The Nighthawks session was enticingly recorded and mixed by Scott Solter, who previously engineered Broken Arm Trio sessions and has done behind-the-board work for numerous indie rock groups. Friedlander’s method of merging country/folk and jazz with some modern classical qualities should appeal to fans of Bill Frisell and the recently departed Charlie Haden, two other likeminded artists who have also immersed themselves in country/folk within a jazz framework.
TrackList: Sneaky Pete; Clockwork; Hopper’s Blue House; Carom; Nostalgia Blindside; 26 Gasoline Stations; One Red Candle; Poolhall Payback; Nighthawks; The River