Erik Friedlander, Oscalypso

Oscar Pettiford is one of the least-remembered great jazz musicians, a pioneer of bebop who played bass with the top bands of the 1940s, switched to cello after an arm injury at the end of the decade, then plowed on at the top of his game till he died in 1960. The cello never ascended to the mantle of standard jazz instruments (which may account for Pettiford's unjust obscurity), but Erik Friedlander stands as its greatest champion, so no wonder that, for his 18th album as a leader, at the age of 55, he's finally recorded a tribute to the master.

Oscalypso (on Friedlander's self-owned Skipstone Records label) is a supremely satisfying album, heaving the precision swing for which Pettiford was renown, spiked with a light twist of dissonance that leans his music forward while fully honoring its modernist flavors.

Friedlander may be best known as the cellist in John Zorn's Masada String Trio and String Sextet, and some of that music's dark exuberance skitters forth in the nine tracks here—all of them arrangements of Pettiford compositions.

Some of the haunting intervals have also been heard on Friedlander's own albums, notably his solo masterpiece, Block Ice and Propane. But that's only to say that Pettiford has long been his model and hero (how could he not be?), and it may be that he's waited this long, before delving deep into his work, to make sure that he was up to the challenge.

His bandmates are musicians with whom he's played many times over the years: Michael Blake, saxophones; Trevor Dunn, bass; and Michael Sarin, drums. The interplay is as loose and tight as it should be.

The sound, recorded and mixed by Scott Sotter, is crisp and spacious, a little on the bright side, but not at all gratingly so.