Erik Friedlander - "Low Country Cupola" (Bonebridge)
As chameleonic as any member of the so-called downtown scene, cellist Erik Friedlander has always been fonder of his instrument’s idiomatic properties than, say, Tristan Honsinger or Okkyung Lee. This has suited well his participation in a wide array of outfits – from the Masada String Trio to Uri Caine’s “classical” reinventions to a terrific spot on Marty Ehrlich’s recent Julius Hemphill-heavy release on Clean Feed (no small feat stepping up to the example Abdul Wadud) – as well as his own increasingly wide-ranging records.
On the heels of one of his most nimble dates in a while, Bonebridge finds Friedlander augmenting his Pettiford-inspired Broken Arm Trio (with bassist Trevor Dunn and drummer Mike Sarin) with slide guitar virtuoso Doug Wamble. For starters, the sound of this disc is a sheer delight, with a warmth that brings out all the woody colors marvelously (its sound reminds me consistently of that living room feel on Merle Haggard’s Roots Vol. 1). And at the center of these winning tunes is Friedlander’s gorgeous pizz sound, so limber and lyrical and unostentatious. Fittingly, this is a groove recording that’s unafraid of unabashed hooks and sing-song melodies. The gifted Wamble and Friedlander trade off themes throughout, and play them in sweet unison, too. Occasionally the band uses some gentle overdubbing for background high keening or an almost organ-like effect, but in general the sound is spare and exuberant.
It would certainly be fair to think of Bill Frisell’s post-Nashville output as a touchstone here. But to my ears, the well-constructed pieces on Bonebridge sound more like good polished pop, filled with nice turnarounds and modulations, even as the emphasis is still very much on improvisation within the form. And both writing and playing are filled with good variety, even with a relatively consistent feel. There’s some elegant swing on tunes like “Beaufain Street” that recalls Broken Arm’s record, as well as some moments (“Hanky Panky,” in particular) that sound a bit like the Tin Hat Trio. They even dip briefly into improv abstraction on “Bridge to Nowhere” and peer into darkness on “Caribou Narrows.” But the radiant, contented sound of most of Bonebridge is what’s winning about it (that, and the sweet solos throughout, most notably on “The Reverend”). I expect this one to stay in heavy rotation this summer.