In the 1970s, American photographer Lee Friedlander and his family traveled in their 1966 Chevy Camper for months at a time, in hopes of capturing images of the American West.
On one trip through Washington’s Yakima Valley, the Friedlanders stayed with Lee’s Uncle Neil, an immigrant beet farmer who did not understand his nephew’s profession. Lee’s son Erik remembers his great-uncle’s reaction to watching Lee take photos.
“Lee, I don’t think those pictures aren’t going to be worth a shit,” Erik said, recalling his great uncle’s advice.
Erik Friedlander, now an accomplished jazz cellist, used this memory and others as inspiration for his latest album, “Block Ice & Propane.” Introducing this work to the New Haven jazz scene, he played selections — including “Dream Song,” “Airstream Envy” and “Road Weary” — to kick off the Firehouse 12 Fall Jazz Series this past Friday.
Located at 45 Crown St., Firehouse 12 is a bar, recording studio and music hall. The club is gaining prominence as one of the foremost recording and performance spaces on the Eastern seaboard, having been nominated for a Technical Excellence and Creativity Award for Best Studio Design in 2006. As the name suggests, Firehouse 12 originally housed a fire station but after an extensive three-year renovation, it became the modern, sophisticated space it is today.
“It’s always good to be somewhere where the owners take pride in the place and the way everything looks,” Friedlander, who has now performed at the venue twice, said. “You don’t find it too often, but you definitely sense that here.”
The Jazz Series began two years ago with the completion of the club’s renovation, Production Manager Daniel Fine said. The series, which is now held twice a year — once in the fall and once in the spring — is a way to showcase a variety of improvisational jazz talent.
“We’re not a traditional 1960s jazz club, but more loosely avant-garde — the mainstream of modern creative jazz,” Firehouse 12 owner Nick Lloyd said. “The music I try to feature has a variety of different influences.”
The Fall 2007 Series opened with Friedlander’s performance Friday night. In addition to the segments from “Block Ice & Propane,” Friedlander performed several pieces from his other solo albums, including “Prowl” and “Maldoror,” in addition to a handful of his contributions to John Zorn’s “Azazel: Book of Angels Vol. 2.”
The most striking feature of his recent release is the way in which he distorts a cello’s conventional sound. Forgoing the traditional bow/string interplay that is so common in both classical and jazz cello, Friedlander preferred slapping, scratching and plucking the instrument’s strings. Thematically, “Block Ice & Propane” recalled stories from his youth, and he tried to mimic that ethos in his playing style as well.
“The guitar was my first instrument; I learned it when I was five,” Frieldander said. “When writing the pieces for this album, I wondered how it would sound to bring those techniques to the cello.”
Veronica Wallace ’08, who attended Friday’s concert with most of Saybrook College’s Low Strung, an all-cello rock group, was “blown away” by Friedlander’s style and energy.
“I really enjoyed his innovative style, and the countless ways he drew very diverse sounds out of the cello (the percussion and pizzicato in particular!),” Wallace said in an e-mail.
Friday’s opening concert was Wallace’s first time at the venue, which she describes as having “good acoustics, aesthetics and close atmosphere,” and she said she would definitely return if a performance drew her there. For Lloyd, it is important to attract New Haven’s student population, and the series have received more student attention over the years. Lloyd said he schedules each season’s series when Yale is in session because students comprise a large part of his clientele.
The Fall Jazz series continues Friday night with two performances by the Ted Poor Trio at 8:30 and 10 p.m.