Some use visual art; others look to poetry. But the muse for Erik Friedlander’s latest album, Artemisia, is absinthe, the famously hallucination-inducing alcoholic drink that was only re-legalized in the U.S. in 2007, after a nearly 100-year ban. The New York cellist, whose career is filled with solo albums and John Zorn sideman shifts, hadn’t had a drop of the stuff prior to this project. But the music, willed into being by Friedlander with pianist Uri Caine, bassist Mark Helias, and drummer Ches Smith, should sound familiar to anyone who’s ever partaken of controlled (more or less) substances. Focused and intense, with titles like “The Devil Made Liquid” and “Drop by Drop,” it perfectly captures the “moment of clarity” one often has while under the influence.
The inspiration for Artemisia was first uncorked at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, at a Picasso exhibit. The artist’s absinthe glasses took hold of Friedlander’s imagination, though he didn’t realize it until he’d already commenced composing for the LP.