The history of jazz cello is full of strings attached. Upright bass players — among them Oscar Pettiford, Percy Heath, Harry Babasin, Ray Brown and Ron Carter — have occasionally strayed. But their contributions to the diminutive violoncello are often overshadowed by their work on its bigger, heavier cousin.
Erik Friedlander is resolutely a cellist. His Pettiford-inspired 2008 recording, Broken Arm Trio, rests firmly in the subset of jazz cello music. Friedlander's newest recording, Bonebridge, congeals that trio (bassist Trevor Dunn, drummer Mike Sarin) with another jazz outlier: Tennessean Doug Wamble and his resonating slide guitar.
"It hit me like a ton of bricks," Friedlander says. "I was really writing another book of music for the Broken Arm Trio. The music, however, was pushing me in another direction, and I was working against myself. I needed to uncork it. I thought slide guitar. It's got the legato, soulful vibe, and it's similar to the cello, but it's completely different. So I wanted to play with that tension and see what happens when you put us together."
What happens is a kind of timbral majesty: savvy, knowing, upright and down-home. Out June 14, Bonebridge is full of steady, directed songs that thrive in open air. It's unquestionably jazz, but it's also Americana, chamber music and a whole lot more.
"I feel like I'm at my best when I go for melody and it's very forthright," Friedlander says. "I was after songlike structures, tunes that could be sung in a small group. Obviously, we have no words and no singer. I wanted that inevitable feeling where everybody, including the listener, would feel the changes coming, but also play with that form a little. There are a few twists and turns that if you listen closely you can hear."