Erik Friedlander & Teho Teardo: improvised/electronic collaborations

The jazz/electronic collaborations between Steve Reid and Four Tet’s Kieran Hebden have garnered a lot of attention over the past few years. Both are tremendously talented musicians—but I have to say that I was disappointed when I saw the two of them live at the Empty Bottle a couple years ago. I’d hoped to see some genuine improvisational interaction between the two, and had high expectations, given Hebden’s exceptional work for his Four Tet project. But at the live show, it seemed that Reid was mostly limited to following Hebden—that Hebden couldn’t change up his electronics with the same ease and fluidity that was second nature to Reid on the drums. Also, it probably didn’t help that Hebden & Reid were preceded on stage by Chicago’s great Fred Anderson, who played a muscular and energetic duo set with his frequent collaborator, the incomparable drummer Hamid Drake.

In any case, I do really like the idea of top-flight improvisers and electronic artists working together, and I’m always pleased discover successful collaborations in this mode. One recent example: Giorni Rubati, cellist Erik Friedlander‘s collaboration with electronic artist and film score composer Teho Teardo (available from bip-hop records; also available via eMusic and as an Amazon MP3 download).

The record, while excellent, is far from entirely improvised—more on that below. But first, check out the YouTube video below of a live performance by Friedlander and Teardo at the Knitting Factory in 2005. Notice how the two respond to each other throughout the performance. Teardo opens in reaction to Friedlander’s percussive, repetitive playing by bringing out some glitchy noise, but then soon moves his way into a much denser wash of darkly warm sound, which Friedlander in turn responds to by getting out his bow and entirely changing his approach to the improvisation.

On record, the two take a different approach— and in fact they were on different continents while recording the collaboration. Friedlander recorded responses to poems by Giorni Rubati —some of which were solo improvisations, while others were multitracked. Teardo then took Friedlander’s recordings, added his own contributions, and manipulated the recordings. The result is a shapeshifting and thoroughly engrossing record, in which Friedlander and Teardo both cover a wide range of sonic territory. Friedlander’s playing is often percussive, but he’ll sometimes also offer melancholy bowing or keen noisily. Teardo seems equally fond of glitchy electronic and much warmer and fuller sounds, and does a superb job of interacting with and responding to Friedlander’s recordings. Occasionally voices reading fragments of Rubati’s poetry in Italian or English float in. (Somewhat oddly, the album ends with a cover of the Normal’s “Warm Leatherette”—it doesn’t have much in common with the themes or moods of the rest of the record, but it’s enjoyable all the same.)

I’d also very highly recommend Friedlander’s solo cello record Block Ice and Propane, which I’ll perhaps give a blog post of its own someday, as it’s a remarkable record—both virtuosic and fun, and a real joy to listen to.

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