“Americana” doesn’t gibe with “homeland,” a term which always reminds me of nativist propaganda. The Wikipedia definition of “homeland” alludes to that nuance: “When used as a proper noun, the word, as well as its cognates in other languages (ie. Heimatland in German) often have ethnic nationalist connotations.”
Americana, at least as propagated by cellist Erik Friedlander in his new solo cd Block Ice & Propane represents the open-minded, loose and rangy culture of the great land that’s our land, rather than Know Nothing principles that would bar the alien, close the borders and bear arms behind fortified shutters.
Friedlander discovered America on car-and-camper trips with his parents and sister during the 1960s. Evidently watching the highway unfold as the wheels went ’round led him to associate U.S. national identity with the rough-hewn, old-timey fiddle/guitar/banjo figures of Scot-Irish origin that remain at the core of folk, blues and country music (hence rock and pop, too; jazz comes somethin’ else). He distills themes from those basic elements, then shapes and structures them into compositions simple but sturdy as furniture hand-crafted with dovetail joints. His realizations, live at Joe’s Pub on July 17 as well as on his self-released album, are unfussy but luminous, like the “social landscapes” his father, Lee Friedlander, photographed during their family travels.
Maybe the cross-country driving vacation, like America’s folk music’s roots, is receding into an earlier, more innocent, less gas-costly era – and maybe that era is bathed in the glow of nostalgia. But what comes through Erik Friedlander’s vivid, mostly pizzicato virtuosity is a love of the amber-waves-of-grain vistas that he saw through the windshield, an embrace of the quirkiness of people and places encountered at random stops and layovers visits with relatives. Though he’s now a cosmopolitan, cross-genre artist who performed one of jazz beyond jazz John Zorn’s Masada compositions as an encore, Friedlander never condescends to the mainstream he encountered as a boy and remembers in maturity. He ennobles it. See him play with Zorn’s Masada String Trio here.