Release date: May 26, 2023
Label: Skipstone Records
She Sees is the uninhibited and joyous new album by the resilient, visionary cellist Erik Friedlander and his “garage band for the 2020’s” Sentinel.
His fourth release since his Parkinson’s diagnosis in 2016, the widely acclaimed Friedlander was at first able to control the associated tremors with drugs. Over time, the medication lost its potency, prompting Friedlander to undergo DBS (Deep Brain Stimulation) surgery at NYU Langone last summer. This procedure, considered the largest breakthrough in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease in the past 40 years, eliminated Friedlander’s tremors, which were the predominant side-effect of his diagnosis. “I feel like I’ve been given a special gift to continue on with composing and playing the cello without the tremors, which made me self-conscious and also made playing the cello difficult. It’s remarkable,” Friedlander reflected. He continues to be treated at NYU.
With a renewed resolve and optimism, Friedlander assembled Sentinel in Mexico City this January to record the follow up to their critically acclaimed self-titled debut. She Sees is the second Sentinel recording, and this time Friedlander imagined a sentinel on guard watching the world. “Like a goddess she sees everything but chooses to just be present and register it. She watches, cries, laughs, and is moved by some and saddened by others. She is there always and is, so far, not moved to action.” Friedlander was also inspired to expand his band for this recording. Sentinel’s first recording consisted of Erik Friedlander on cello, Ava Mendoza on guitar, and Diego Espinosa on percussion. She Sees marks the addition of bassist Stomu Takeishi, who was asked to join the band for this recording and is now a permanent member.
The album opens with a bang on “Baskets, Biscuits and Rain”, a genre-hybrid featuring an aggressive guitar sound and power chords mixed with elegant, playful cello lines. “Wit and Whimsy”, a short and biting appetizer follows, highlighting Friedlander’s composing chops. “Blink” has a funky guitar intro that gives way to a sly melody in the cello. These are just some highlights; each of the 10 pieces in this rich collection are memorable. The album tracks Friedlander’s restless mind as he creates a mix of genres that finally coalesce into a sound that is uniquely Sentinel’s.
Sentinel’s sound takes on a new timbre with the addition of Takeishi. “Adding bass opened the music up and allowed us to explore the chemistry of the band, exchanging roles and playing in different formations,” shared Friedlander. “The first recording had a more chamber feel. This one is definitely a bigger, more explosive sound. Stomu and Diego’s formidable rhythm-section drove the band, allowed for a louder volume, and made it possible for Ava to turn up and bring a rock’n’roll energy to the music.” Stomu has toured internationally with various groups, from NYC to Finland’s Tampere Festival. A member of Myra Melford’s Crush Trio and trumpeter Cuong Vu’s group Vu-Tet, he has also played with such musicians as Henry Threadgill, Don Cherry, Randy Brecker, and Wynton Marsalis.
Diego Espinosa is a versatile percussionist with an ability to play different kinds of music, convincing at every turn. “Whether it’s playing a groove like ‘Wit & Whimsy’ or a more jazzy tune like ‘Soak, Soak!’ he brings a fresh perspective, part percussionist, part drummer. He flavors the music with his own brand of spice, always tasteful, always fiery,” says Friedlander. Espinsoa has performed on five continents and has collaborated with artists such as Pierre Boulez, John Zorn and Steve Reich. He is the founder of The Electronic Hammer computer-percussion trio and Ear Massage percussion quartet, and is a popular soloist.
“Ava Mendoza is a most-modern guitar player who can read her ass off and brings that dirty, rock sensibility that is needed for this band’s music to work. I don’t want the guitar player to sound too smart; there should be a bluntness to the performance,” Friedlander says. “But nailing the parts is tough and making them her own is even tougher, and Ava accomplished this so adeptly.” Ava has toured throughout the U.S. and Europe and recorded/performed with leading musicians such as Nels Cline, Matana Roberts, John Zorn and Malcolm Mooney. She is the leader of art rock band Unnatural Ways, and is well known as a solo performer of her own music and works by contemporary composers.
A longtime veteran of New York City’s Downtown scene, Erik Friedlander is known for his prolific work as a bandleader having released 22 records under his own name and has appeared on 100s of cds as a sideman. Erik has been recording and touring with THE THROW quartet with Uri Caine, Mark Helias and Ches Smith. In 2022 they released their second album together, A Queens’ Firefly. Erik has written the score for “Thoroughbreds” now showing on HBO and recently completed the score for the feature film, “Baby Ruby” which will be released this year and stars Kit Harrington and Noémi Merlant.
A Queens' Firefly
Release date: April 29, 2022
Label: Skipstone Records
A Queens’ Firefly finds the miraculous within the routine, taking inspiration from the small moments of life to create an overflow of joy and optimism.
Friedlander wrote the music for A Queens’ Firefly after his band The Throw booked a 2-week tour in Europe for February of 2020, just before the pandemic began. He needed to expand the band’s repertoire beyond the pieces of their record, Artemisia (2018). With the sound of the band in his head, he knew what kind of elements would work. “I can depend on Ches Smith to be a creative and commanding drummer who can lead us through the tricky moments with style,” explains Friedlander. “I knew Uri Caine would swing so hard and solo with so much bravado that you couldn’t help but smile every time he played. And I knew Mark Helias would be the wild card at the right moment, changing the energy and holding down the groove with his soulful sound. It was exciting to know I would perform with these great musicians for the European audiences, and then go into the studio and record the pieces with all those shows under our belts.”
While writing the tracks that would come to make up A Queens’ Firefly, Friedlander was struck by a Virginia Woolf quote from To The Lighthouse:
“What is the meaning of life? That was all – a simple question… The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead, there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark.”
Woolf’s quotation can apply to music as well – music is given meaning by musicians arranging and performing it. But outside the frame of any particular piece is the magic of the chemistry between musicians, which percolates and creates those ‘daily miracles.’ Friedlander composed a collection of songs that gives the musicians a structure for improvisation and sets the stage for fireworks. The band plays with a loose fearlessness that encourages spontaneous eccentricities and moments of synchronicity that were unforeseen, even by its players.
The album opener “A Queens Firefly” is inspired by a memory of Friedlander visiting his wife before they were married, who at the time lived in Queens. Friedlander recalls that, “we would see fireflies in her neighborhood on 35th Street in Astoria while walking in the early evening. We would pause to watch them. Comforting and magical, but unaware of our attention, their lights would blink on and off in the darkness like Woolf’s match strikes.” In ”A Queens’ Firefly, the members of The Throw interpret eight tracks that show off Friedlander’s melodic song writing, as well as his use of sneaky forms and odd meter changes. This is an album by a band of veteran musicians that take these eight pieces and make them shine.
The members of The Throw are all respected musicians in 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 six solo albums. 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 22 records 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.
for She Sees
“With She Sees, Erik Friedlander showcases the cello’s power as a rival of the electric guitar in the rock realm.” Read the full interview here.
THE BIG TAKEOVER
"His imagination unbound, his bandmates communing on the same wavelength, and his playing impeccable, Friedlander adds another masterpiece to his CV with She Sees." Read the review here.
"Cellist Friedlander is not going to let anything get in the way of making joyous music. Friedlander was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2016. Last summer he had Deep Brain Stimulation Surgery. This album, filled with titles like Baskets, Biscuits, Rain; Soak! Soak! and Wit & Whimsy showcase an enthusiasm for living life." More here.
"Friedlander really shines on this album and demonstrates, again, his inclusive sonic vision as well as his wisdom and imagination as a composer, performer and bandleader." Read the full review here.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
"Cellist Erik Friedlander is the leader of this quartet but its most potent weapon is guitarist Ava Mendoza who does a lot to shape the music through a barrage of hard rock riffs and chords spun out both in support of the leader's furious bowing and her own solo turns." Check out this review here.
THE NEW YORY CITY JAZZ RECORD
"Medical science is partially responsible for this new program from Erik Friedlander’s Sentinel band. Deep brain stimulation surgery last year meant that the New York-based cellist is now able to control the Parkinson’s disease-induced tremors he has had to cope with since 2016." Read the full review here.
"These diversions into formalized and folksy on some of the cellist’s 10 compositions, doesn’t means that the band can’t (jazz) rock out on other tracks. “Soak! Soak” is an instance of this as Friedlander’s swift arco stops cut across the guitarist’s note flanges that she projects with plenty of reverb." Read the full review here.
for A Queens' Firefly
THE BIG TAKEOVER
"No matter in what direction Friedlander takes the music, it always stays accessible, remaining ear catching and commanding no matter what scratches he puts on the surface." Read the complete review here.
"You can’t go wrong with a new release from Erik Friedlander.." Read The Best Jazz on Bandcamp for April 2022 here.
NEW YORK MUSIC DAILY
"Fans of peak-era Jean-Luc Ponty, the early Turtle Island Quartet and 70s art-rock bands will love this stuff." Read the review here.
"..a well-balanced and cheerful mood suffuses the program." Read the complete review here.
THIERRY P. BENIZEAU
"Served by an exceptional quartet, this album stands out as a luminous musical metaphor imbued with nostalgia.." Read the complete review in French in the August 2022 print issue of Jazz Magazine.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
"..A Queens' Firefly is another first-rate effort from this under-recognized quartet." Read the review here.