Great Albums You May Have Missed: Erik Friedlander's Block Ice & Propane (2007)
As I listen to Block Ice & Propane, I recall the other possible uniform title I considered for this blog thread: “Prone to Hyperbole”; because this collection of songs may be the most evocative set of music the universe has ever heard! It throws us in the back of a camper for a cross-country camping trip, circa 1960 or '70-something; drives us down the backroads of America; and all we have to do is just notice, every so often, our impressions along the way. If you've ever taken such a trip, or I imagine even a trip down any backroad in the world, and felt the sheer ruralness, the emptiness of it; this collection may very well trigger a slowly-unfolding, deep memory fountain from your forgotten and innocent youth, eventually bubbling over into your heart, full of naïve childhood memories that helped to color who you are today. And as prone to hyperbole as I may be, you just have to check this one out. See if I'm right in that it takes you where it promises to.
Erik Friedlander is an experimental jazz cellist active in the New York City Downtown scene (meaning he wouldn't consider himself "experimental;" or "jazz;" or a "cellist;" or "in the"). This recording grew out of a musician experimenting with the boundaries of his instrument, playing around with alternate tunings, using a jazz bass-like pizzicato style not often used on the cello, letting the resulting sounds provide the inspiration for the direction of entire pieces; but to call it ‘experimental’ would miss the mark. It's much more of a traditional sound than that, suggestive of a time 'back then.' Friedlander was experimenting and reminiscing with instrument in hand, “trying to find something creative and personal."
He remembers as a kid, driving around in his parents' camper in the summer months, when the light was long; while his dad, a photographer, was out to capture all the beautiful pictures that he claimed were already there, waiting to be captured.
But now get this: Erik Friedlander's dad is none other than Lee Friedlander, an accomplished artist behind the camera and a wonderful documentarian of Americana (recently shown at The Whitney Museum's America By Car exhibition)! Think of it! Lee Friedlander's kid tagging along on his photo field trips, scenery rolling by, his dad snapping pictures, finding and capturing lasting works of art in all these seemingly mundane details. The kid grows up; gets to know music—masters it actually, to the point where he can use it to convey a story filled with real memories and emotion; then invites us right back down those same dusty backroads again.
Try getting both Block Ice & Propane, and a copy of Lee Friedlander's photography book, America By Car, at the same time. It's a colorful trip to take with a father and son who both seem to know exactly when to call our attention to details we might not have noticed otherwise; details that, once noticed, seem so obvious, so much the basis for the entire memory of the trip.
Erik Friedlander reminisces, from the liner notes of Block Ice & Propane:
Our Camper was a thin shelled box sitting on top of a 1966 Chevrolet pickup truck. An economy model with a propane gas stove, a sink and a table—no shower, no fridge. 15 lb. blocks of ice kept the food from rotting. Lukewarm sponge baths from the sink or campground showers did the same for us.
One summer newer RVs appeared on the road—sleek, silver Airstreams throwing our reflection back at us as they roared past like first class trains. Showers. Refrigerators. Incomprehensible luxury. The era of block ice was drawing to and end.
The hours my sister and I spent reading or counting Mack trucks from the top window… Cities, campgrounds, parades, outhouses, wild animals, and strange characters suffused in the haze of thousands of hours of highway travel. Writing these pieces put me back in that camper, where time seemed to slow, while outside tiny white signs furiously ticked off the next tenth of a mile.
Night driving was magical. Perched in the overlook section of the camper, my sister and I would watch the headlights and highway signs speeding through the darkness, and sometimes we’d read or talk or listen to a radio. Finally we’d get into our sleeping bags and drift off as our strange cocoon on wheels hurried on.
Listen to a preview of Block Ice & Propane online.
To hear the full track of Dream Song, along with some other great cello music, check WNYC's New Sounds show of Sept 18, 2008.
More Lee Friedlander Photography Books:
America By Car D.A.P./Distributed Art Publishers, 2010.
Lee Friedlander: Sticks & Stones: Architectural America by Lee Friedlander, essay by James Enyeart. Fraenkel Gallery, 2004.
American Musicians photographs by Lee Friedlander; preface by Joel Dorn; interviews with Steve Lacy and Ruth Brown. D.A.P./Distributed Art Publishers, 1998.
At Work Lee Frielander. D.A.P./Distributed Art Publishers, 2002.