Erik Friedlander – Nighthawks (2014)

Erik Friedlander’s newest Bonebridge record sprung forth from the dark and quiet of New York City in the immediate aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. The unexpected solitude the master cellist found from the five day loss of power in lower Manhattan gave him the perspective and focus that provided the material for his bluegrass-tinged combo’s second release, Nighthawks, out May 20 on Friedlander’s Skipstone Records.

The Bonebridge Band — which also includes Doug Wamble on guitar, Trevor Dunn on acoustic bass and Michael Sarin on drums — is Friedlander’s vehicle for putting his own stamp on Americana music. No one has to overplay to show that they’re great musicians, and they all have a classical sensibility in carefully modulating their collective sound while the jazz sensibility to take advantage of the opportunities to stretch out when they present themselves. At the center is Friedlander, who molds his cello into a quasi-acoustic guitar, bringing the instrument in unfamiliar rural settings and settling into such surroundings as if they were always its home.

The best part about it is that within these settings, the Bonebridge Boys still find plenty of ideas to mine.

One of those crazy ideas that actually work so well is the pairing of Friedlander’s cello with Wamble’s electric guitar. You hear that on the opener, “Sneaky Pete,” where Appalachia meets mostly unplugged rock fusion. It’s also where Friedlander loosens up and gets funky and elated when he solos. The unusual but pleasant cello/guitar unisons reappear on the somber “One Red Candle” and folk strain/Caribbean rhythm hybrid “The River.”

Another thing that this band will do is put Wamble in a lead role with Friedlander devising a circular harmonic part to complement his, as on the pretty ballad “Hopper’s Blue House.” Dunn’s bowed bass brings a measure of elegance to the song, and Wamble’s understated sliding solo completes the mood. “Nostalgia Blindside” follows much of the same approach, a lonesome hymn with an orchestral sound that evokes the same vibe of “Wichita Lineman.” It gets a little psychedelic, too, when Wamble’s guitar notes are played backwards, bringing just a touch of Bill Frisell’s folksy weirdness to the performance.

The foundation of the folk-blues “26 Gasoline Stations” features a shuffling bass figure sometimes followed by Wamble. Friedlander plays a stellar solo, followed by Wamble’s stinging slide. More of Wamble’s appealing slide guitar testimony can be found on the carefree waltz “Poolhall Payback.”

As good as the playing is, Nighthawks starts with the songs, songs that transcend the style that they’re played in. It’s amazing what a temporary loss of technology can inspire.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is a CPA and mid-level data analyst for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. Contact him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews.com.