Cellist Erik Friedlander understands the value of swing throughout Oscalypso (Skipstone Records), his joyful, thoroughly engaging tribute to the late bassist, cellist and influential composer Oscar Pettiford. While his name won’t be familiar to many folks, Pettiford was an important bebop musician in the 50s who put his stamp on many dates with jazz legends including albums by Miles Davis, Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk. He’s also credited with discovering saxophonist Cannonball Adderley. Although he passed away in 1960 when he was just 38 years old, both his music and commanding style remain affecting and inspirational.
Friedlander takes a fresh look at 9 Pettiford originals (you’ll recognize the jazz standard “Bohemia After Dark”) with a band of experienced veterans featuring saxophonist Michael Blake, bassist Trevor Dunn and drummer Michael Sarin. He modernizes Pettiford’s tunes, always keeping swing at their core — the band’s got a way with finding a groove and opening up unexpected rhythmic possibilities that are surprising for a cello-led jazz quartet. That’s a testament to Friedlander’s ingenuity. Other tunes, mostly obscure to us non-musicians, serve up juicy, colorful melodies followed by terrific improvisations. The leader’s arrangements have a natural, dynamic flow, providing plenty of space for Blake’s sinewy sax lines and Dunn’s deep, plummy bass notes. The emotive ballad, “Two Little Pearls” is a standout with its mix of jazz and classical motifs as is Pettiford’s famed “Tricotism,” but each tune is a winner, played with panache and exquisite taste. (9 tracks; 44 minutes)