Cellist Erik Friedlander brings more than just unique instrumentation to his album Bonebridge. Although the freshness of a cello, guitar, bass and drums collective hooks the ear immediately, it is Friedlander’s compositional skills and his gifted band that keeps the interest going throughout. Overall, the tunes are stylistically multidimensional -- the atmospherics of progressive jazz, the ensemble polish of chamber music, the earthiness of the blues, or the lilting melody of Appalachian old-time music are all represented. Thrown into this style stew is each musicians standout talent for exacting support without overcrowding the warmth of Friedlander’s compositions.
The opening track, “Low Country Cupola”, highlights Friedlander’s ability for merging cello, bass and guitar with drums -- no easy feat given the possible harmonic overlap between these instruments. Friedlander, guitarist Doug Wamble, bassist Trevor Dunn and percussionist Mike Sarin give the laid-back melody space to develop which avoids possible collisions. They slide in to support the overall sound, accenting each other’s harmonic turns before letting another do the same. The funky “Beaufain Street” continues this strategy but adds an ensemble feel before each musician lets loose with bouncing solos.
Friedlander incorporates a mostly pizzicato technique, exploiting the sonic relationship between the bass and guitar and at times giving the effect of a single, expansive instrument instead of three separate ones. But when he does choose the more traditional bowing it achieves a deep resonance. For example, “Caribbou Narrows” is reminiscent of the affecting sounds of, say, the Esbjörn Svensson Trio. Unlike others, though, Bonebridge is firmly rooted in the American musical vocabulary, equally as apt to throw in a blues vibe or some early jazz campiness as any formal classicism.
Erik Friedlander has created a singular and highly enjoyable album with Bonebridge. He infuses every tune with melodic ingenuity, interesting tonal qualities and emotional depth. The instrumentation, instead of being delivered as mere novelty, unfolds with a novel imagination, and thanks to the deft musicianship of bandmates, the compositions are endlessly intriguing.