Erik Friedlander - "Spinning Plates" (Broken Arm Trio)
Inspired by Oscar Pettiford and Herbie Nichols, cellist Erik Friedlander leads a quicksilver trio with Trevor Dunn on bass and the wonderful Mike Sarin on drums. Despite the capacious experience of these players – everything from Masada to Fantomas to the Thomas Chapin Trio – they play a well considered, stripped down music that’s learned from their wide experience but doesn’t try to shoehorn it all in.
On this superbly recorded date, the woody qualities of all three instruments is right there in lively color. The players deliver 50 minutes of quirky, quizzical bop-derived stuff in the best sense. There are no harmonic hamstrings here, though the language of bop resounds throughout; nor are there any constraining changes that lock things up. It’s a mostly linear music where clarity of melody is privileged. Even when Dunn and Friedlander use double- and triple-stops, it’s usually for percussive effect rather than to fill out harmonies. So what you’ve got is a bunch of great heads, a real sonic vibrancy (I can’t get enough of Friedlander and Dunn tying and untying knots here), and a lovely rhythmic momentum, as each tune swings playfully and without self-awareness. (“Big Shoes” and “Tiny’s” are particularly enjoyable in that regard).
Not everything hews quite so closely to this template, of course. There are several places where these expressive players wear sentiment proudly on sleeve. Friedlander punctuates the gorgeous, wine-dark melody on “Pearls” with gentle arco lines. Then there’s the sweet melancholy of the too-short cello solo “Buffalo” and the Dunn-led “Ink.” They also dabble briefly in funk on “Knife Points” and in clacking, buzzing extended techniques on “Jim Zipper” (it’s the kind of thing you’re more likely to hear in a Warner Bros. cartoon than on an FMP record).
But I keep coming back to the Nichols influence, heard most on the dancing “Pretty Penny,” which boasts Friedlander’s flashiest technique, and the stop-start “Cake,” with wonderfully elastic phrases from Dunn, too. Aside from themes and genres, though, what really makes the disc is a wonderful group sound. It’s rooted in the intricacies and expansiveness of rhythm and conducive to a music that is always warm and woody at its heart.