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Erik Friedlander: Broken Arm Trio

It’s a quiet pluck and a kick, a twitter reminiscent of the Grecian zither-based music from The Third Man that introduces you to improvisational cellist Erik Friedlander’s newest effort. Usually a manic, wiry bower with the likes of John Zorn and Laurie Anderson, Friedlander let go of the bow and played only pizzicato as the leader of BAT so to create this intimate brand of bop-infused balladry with the small-group groove of Herbie Nichols’ finest moments. (Friedlander’s band name actually comes from the time Oscar Pettiford busted his arm playing baseball and, in a sling, experimented with a cello and released classics like 1964’s My Little Cello.)

With drummer Mike Sarin and bassist Trevor Dunn around him, this is the smallest that Friedlander’s ever sounded and the most percussive, melodic and tender to boot. Friedlander’s clucking, humming cello sounds like a hollow-body slack-key guitar devoid of Hawaiian riffs. It’s homespun and warm and slightly clunky. The fluttering “Cake,” the prancing “Pretty Penny,” the nimble “Knife Points”-these are passionate, intelligent, playful songs. They whet, then satisfy, the same appetite. None of this is solely Friedlander’s doing. Dunn’s riffs and pops are subtle and gray-shaded. Sarin’s shuffles are soft and flip. On the longish, dramatic “Buffalo” the dance is less playful.

But its unsteadily sensual stop-and-start pacing allows it a cinematic ambience unlike much else on BAT, save for the slow slink of the brief “Ink.” That might be because so many of its other melodies are so folksy. Sometimes that folk might be a Russian-inspired moment like the meowing “Pearls” or the eerily icy “Big Shoes.” Sometimes it’s Greek like “Spinning Plates.” Mostly, though, it’s homegrown and ruminative like the forlorn “Easy,” with its country-ish chords and bent pitches. In other words, it’s gorgeous, soulful and smart.

Originally Published