How best to score a film about a photographer in Greenland? The potential pitfalls are numerous. One needs to translate the wide open spaces and sparse topography without seeming dull or chilly; and to portray the dazzling allure of the Aurora Borealis without seeming treacly. And in this case, one also needs to include a sense of fun. This expedition – director Mick Abrams accompanying photographer Murray Fredericks – wasn’t the normal danger-fraught disaster narrative, but a treasure hunt for beauty. The documentary included a score that was lovely, but brief; the recently-released album adds five songs inspired by the film. New York cellist Erik Friedlander‘s decision to invite Satoshi Takeishi on percussion and Shoko Nagai on accordion, piano and mini-xylophone was a wise one. Alternating cello pieces (stroked and plucked) with fully fledged instrumentation adds a sense of diversity. While the original tracks continue to convey a mood, the new tracks convey a myriad. This new collaboration (which will tour as Black Phoebe) is rich in timbre and hue, offering enhancements of themes only hinted at in the originals.
“Aasiaat” offers the first hints of fullness, offsetting the solo piece found later on the album. The accordion breathes in gently like a lullaby, setting the stage for the drums, which enter along with the piano at 1:24. In this moment, the album switches from sedate to celebratory. On “Maniitsoq”, the cello is played like an upright bass, producing a light, jazzy feel suggesting sled dogs at play. The percussive taps are like those of travelers around a campfire, improvising rhythms to stay warm. Twinking chimes appear at the start of “Aurora” like stars on a sparkling night. The xylophone is a perfect choice to convey a childlike joy, and fits the flirtatious greens of the upper atmosphere.
Friedlander couldn’t let these pieces stay on the cutting room floor. By rescuing them from the scrap heap, dusting them off and painting them over, he’s created a separate work of art to stand alongside the first. (Richard Allen)