The self-titled debut of Downtown cellist Erik Friedlander's Broken Arm Trio refers to an injury that legendary bassist Oscar Pettiford sustained while playing baseball in 1949. Pettiford couldn't play upright bass with his arm in a sling, but he could handle the cello; he proceeded to develop a style on the smaller instrument that yielded a spate of cello-themed albums, including the classic My Little Cello (Fantasy, 1964), a personal favorite of Friedlander's.
Inspired by Pettiford's efforts, Friedlander enlisted bassist Trevor Dunn and drummer Mike Sarin to accompany him on thirteen brief, self-penned originals that veer from ebullient rhythmic excursions to opulent tone poems. An acoustic purist with an evocative arco technique, Friedlander's mournful timbre and predilection for darker thematic material has often tended towards the austerebut not on this set.
In honor of Pettiford's bop-oriented approach to the cello, Friedlander plays pizzicato for the majority of the date, with an uncharacteristic sense of lightheartedness. His effusive contributions are sublime; he plucks, strums, and hammers out brisk double stops over percolating rhythms, generating soulful cadences that lilt with a casual flair.
Although Friedlander dominates the proceedings, the rhythm section is given ample space for expression; Dunn's harmonically rich bass waxes lyrical on "Cake" and "Tiny's" while Sarin's dynamic trap set interpolations take center stage on "Spinning Plates" and "Big Shoes." Dunn and Sarin provide a simmering undercurrent of buoyant mid-tempo swing for the majority of the tunes, with the jagged angles of "Knife Points" and the manic call-and-response interplay of "Jim Zipper" energetic highlights of an otherwise relaxed session.
There are a few detours into sober territory, such as the Mediterranean-infused introspection of "Easy" and "Buffalo." The haunting Eastern modality of "Pearls" and "Ink" reference Friedlander's longstanding work with composer John Zorn's popular Masada project and are the only pieces to feature his sonorous bowing, which provide melancholy contrast to a predominantly optimistic set.
A tireless artist, always open to expanding the acoustic cello language, Broken Arm Trio is one of Friedlander's most refreshing and vibrant efforts.
Personnel: Erik Friedlander: cello; Trevor Dunn: bass; Mike Sarin: drums.