As a veteran of the fertile 1990s Downtown NYC scene, cellist Erik Friedlander has been involved in myriad creative endeavors, including innovative sideman work with Dave Douglas
and John Zorn
, while leading his own unique ensembles, such as Chimera and Topaz. More recently, Friedlander has been performing solo and developing projects inspired by rural Americana, but he has never released an album of coversuntil now.Oscalypso
features creative reinterpretations of nine of Oscar Pettiford
's most beloved tunes. Although Friedlander hasn't actually recorded Pettiford's compositions before, this effort can be heard as an extension of Broken Arm Trio
(Skipstone, 2008), Friedlander's original tribute to the renowned contrabassist's groundbreaking cello experiments, which Pettiford first embarked upon in 1949 while recuperating from a broken arm.
Friedlander is joined on the frontline by saxophonist Michael Blake
, whose impulsive phrasing and breathy high notes contrast with the leader's classical form and pure tone, yielding multihued juxtapositions. Regularly engaging in deft interplay with Blake, Friedlander plucks, strums, and bows plangent refrains with lyrical sustain, while the saxophonist occasionally harmonizes on two horns simultaneously (ala Rahsaan Roland Kirk
), reinforcing the program's nostalgic post-war ambience. Providing understated support, Friedlander's longstanding rhythm section of bassist Trevor Dunn
and drummer Michael Sarin
lend the proceedings a suitably carefree, chamber-esque quality.
The engaging program encapsulates an array of styles and moods culled from Pettiford's songbook, ranging from the plucky "Cello Again" and jaunty "Cable Car" to the languid "Two Little Pearls." Venturing into exotic territory, the flamenco-infused "Tamalpais Love Song" and the tango-based "Sunrise Sunset" recall Friedlander's evocative work with Zorn, more so than Pettiford's customary bebop.
Brimming with gorgeous melodies, lush harmonies and captivating rhythms, Friedlander's beguiling arrangements provide a rich foundation for the group to test its improvisational mettle. Focusing on reconfigured classics rather than new compositions, Oscalypso
is more than just a delightful homage to a renowned masterit is a signifier of Friedlander's skills as an imaginative interpreter of traditional jazz repertoire.