Cellist Erik Friedlander’s Explores the Poetic Force of the Mixed Martial Arts on New Album ‘Dirty Boxing’, releasing June 28, 2024, via Skipstone Records

Esteemed cellist Erik Friedlander steps back into the musical ring with his new album Dirty Boxing. To be released on June 28, 2024 via Skipstone Records, Friedlander’s wry look at the stark vocabulary of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is an unexpected and clever subject. While exploring the unforeseen parallels between the disciplined artistry of music and the strategic combat of mixed martial arts, Friedlander and his bandmates deliver powerful performances that weave together intensity, grace, and a touch of the fighting spirit. The resulting sonic odyssey is bound to leave listeners stunned and maybe even a little knocked out.

On Dirty Boxing, musical elegance collides with deadpan literalism, from “Sprawl”, a protean, quintessential jazz tune to “Foot Stomp”, a tricky mixed meter number that moves the musical ‘foot stomp’ by a single eighth note to create the tune’s signature moment. Friedlander also experiments with a modular form of composition which creates the ability to change the essential form of the tune each time it is played. Each one of these tunes, tracks 3-5, features one member of the band in a solo spotlight. “I’ve had a growing fascination with the mixed martial arts for about 3-4 years now. The sheer intensity with which these athletes challenge themselves in the octagon is captivating. It’s a kind of intensity I can relate to,” Friedlander said. “Performing, in many ways, is about putting yourself to the test, expressing what’s important to you, and sharing your passions. And no one gets hurt in the process!”

The emotional depth of Dirty Boxing is a testament to the power of creativity and the unexplored connections between music and the physicality of combat sports. It not only challenges the norms but also celebrates the beauty of combining disparate worlds. “Practicing martial arts is kind of a solo journey–you’re out there on your own. Music, on the other hand, feels more like being part of a team. But both share this interesting similarity when it comes to style. Just like a fighter picks and mixes different martial arts techniques, a musician pulls from various influences and experiences to shape their unique sound and vibe,” the cellist reflected. 

The members of The Throw are all respected musicians of the Downtown scene. Pianist Uri Caine is well known as a bandleader and masterful reworkings of classical compositions. He has played with musicians such as Dave Douglas, Arto Lindsay and John Zorn. Bassist Mark Helias has performed with the original members of Ornette Coleman’s band, along with many musicians associated with the AACM, and has also released multiple albums as a leader. Drummer Ches Smith has worked with a diverse group of artists, such as Fred Frith, The Secret Chiefs and the rock band Xiu Xiu. He also writes for small and large jazz ensembles and has released albums of solo percussion under his own name. 

A longtime veteran of New York City’s Downtown scene, Erik Friedlander is known for his prolific work as a bandleader having released over 20 albums under his own name. He is a sought-after studio musician, performing with artists as diverse as The Mountain Goats, John Zorn, Dave Douglas and Courtney Love. Whether playing solo or with one of his bands, Friedlander pushes the limits of what the cello can do while maintaining a firm grasp on its traditions. 

On the CD version of Dirty Boxing, listeners are treated to a bonus project of Friedlanders: Floating City. Floating City is a special project featuring Sara Serpa, voice; Wendy Eisenberg, guitar; Mark Helias, bass; and Friedlander, cello and is an ethereal and achingly beautiful experience with arching melodies that aim to transport the listener to another world, floating high above the earth.  This unique collaboration of musicians will resonate with listeners long after the last notes fade away.

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Tracklisting: 

  1. Sprawl (05:29)
  2. Foot Stomp (4:41)
  3. Shrimping (Mod 9) (04:44)
  4. Ground and Pound (Mod 1) (03:30)
  5. D’Arce (Mod 2) (3:28)
  6. Contender (03:46)
  7. Submission (04:55)
  8. Kimura (4:19)

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