A new album on the Skipstone label provides an unusual opportunity to hear something a little different from a jazz ensemble — a cello lead, played sans bow. Genre-crossing virtuoso Erik Friedlander is the focal point of the unconventional group, which includes bassist Trevor Dunn and drummer Mike Sarin. The title of the album is Broken Arm Trio, and there’s a story behind that.
Broken Arm Trio is a homage to jazz great Oscar Pettiford, a bass player who broke his arm as a young man (playing basketball, so the story goes) and turned to the cello while his arm was recovering. He’s generally credited for helping to popularize jazz cello, and it’s his legacy that inspires Friendlander and his buddies. They’re also influenced by Herbie Nichols, who pioneered an eclectic small-group style during the bebop era.
Dunn and Sarin are both polished pros, but Friendlander is the main man here — he even wrote all the music on the album. The son of a photographer who specialized in album artwork, he grew up immersed in the world of music. He’s since become a respected veteran of both the jazz and classical music scenes, with experience in a number of different venues and a long list of recordings to his credit.
The trio’s sound is certainly different from the usual and is difficult to describe, but I found myself warming to it with each repeated listen. The opening track, “Spinning Plates,” is a good choice to sample the sound of the trio, especially Friedlander’s cello picking, which is of course the centerpiece of this and the other tunes.
There are a dozen tracks total, and all follow more or less the same formula although Friedlander’s guys do get to occasionally show their stuff. Drummer Sarin has some nice solos on “Knife Points,” and “Hop Skip” allows Dunn the chance to bring his bass into sharper focus. My favorite here was probably “Big Shoes,” which has – in addition to a challenging title – strong solos from all three members of the group.
It’s a good bet that you won’t find many jazz cello albums being issued these days, and for that reason alone this one is worth a listen.