Circle Waltz: DON FRIEDMAN Trio
Don Friedman (p) Chuck Israels (b) Pete La roca (drs)
(So in Love is an unaccompanied piano solo)
Recorded in New York City; May 14, 1962
Circle Waltz (5:57) (Don Friedman)
Sea’s Breeze (6:02) (Don Friedman)
I Hear a Rhapsody (7:29) (Fragos – Baker)
In Your Own Sweet Way (5:17) (Dave Brubeck)
Loves Parting (5:42) (Don Friedman)
So in Love (3:23) (Cole Porter)
Modes Pivoting (6:44) (Don Friedman)
Don Friedman’s previous LP for Riverside, entitled “A day in the City”, received extremely high praise for a first recording. This praise was rendered somewhat more notable by the fact that the album consisted of six abstract variations on a single theme.
Friedman was more dubious about the “jazz” nature of that recording than the reviewers, who questioned neither its credentials nor its excellence. Therefore he has decided on this second recording to concentrate on what the calls “the problems of jazz playing.” Thus we get what would on the surface appear to be a typical piano trio set: two standards, a jazz standard, and four originals. The emphasis here is more on execution than the previous album of what kind of jazz pianist Friedman is and wants to be.
It would be pointless, in a discussion of this music, to avoid the name of Bill Evans, because there are certain definite similarities between the ways that Friedman and Evans play. But it would be equally pointless t attempt to dismiss Friedman with the phrase, “He sounds like Bill Evans.” The resemblance is primarily one of mood.
Perhaps as a reaction both to the ubiquitous soul brothers and to the naked emotion of such musicians as Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane and Cecil Taylor, certain other musicians have become involved in matters of subtlety and low synamics. Of course, playing with quiet subtlety alone is not enough, as, for instance, Jimmy Giuffre learned. Nor is formalism enough, as Milt Jackson swingingly proves a couple of times every evening the MJQ plays. Those men who are of true value have more to offer. Even Bill Evans, among the most introspective of musicians, has recorded some powerful, propulsive solos.
Friedman, too, is an introspective musician, with the result that even such a forceful solo as the one on Sea’s Breeze is executed at a comparatively low volume. It is decidedly true that the music on this set demands attention. I do not mean this in the sense that annotators often employ the term – that this is difficult music, but it has much to offer, and if you listen closely ten or fifteen times you will get the message, etc. It is rather that it is music that is not intrusive, does not reach out and demand to be heard. It is quite possible that, in its quiet insistence upon itself, this music has to be met more than halfway.
Friedman is, first of all, a technically gifted musician. Perhaps the most striking example of that gift to be found here is the one solo track on the album, the performance of Cole Porter’s So In Love. There is a reminiscence of Tristano in the music, certainly, and blinding speed, but it its, more than anything else, a structured performance, moving surely and logically from its beginning to its end.
On every other track, Friedman has the benefit of excellent accompaniment. A holdover from the previous LP is bassist chuck Israels, who perhaps strengthens the comparison with Evans in that he is currently a member of the latter’s trio. Israels shares with Friedman the quality of unobtrusive excellence. He has always been a fine, inventive bassist, and recent recordings show a steadily increasing grasp of his instrument and widening of his range. He tends to be more assertive with Friedman than with Evans, and that authority, while present everywhere on the album, is probably most notable on the intriguingly structured Circle Waltz.
Pete LaRoca is certainly one of the most neglected of the younger contemporary drummers. He works comparatively infrequently, but, as this album shows, he ahs a superb sense of what is best suited to a particular piece, as he ranges from the nearly invisible support of Circle Waltz to the Elvin Jones-like propulsion of I Hear A Rhapsody. His kind of drumming seems to me infinitely preferable to the work of the countless drummers who have one set, inflexible style, which they would probably play with equal volume behind the full Basie band or a Don Friedman solo.
The jazz standard included in the album is Dave Brubeck’s charming In Your Own Sweet Way (which has always seemed to me t stem from a song Brubeck used to play several years ago, Alice in Wonderland). Bruveck’s songs are admired by many who do not especially care for his piano playing – it is undoubtedly the Miles Davis recording, not Brubeck’s own, which has given In Your Own Sweet Way currency. Friedman’s performance has a gentle lyricism which is often lacking in the composer’s playing of the piece.
Don’s favorite among his own compositions here is the poignantly titled Loves Parting, which, although it does not yet have lyrics, was designed to be sung. Don spent the summer of 1962 working in Europe (he also played on shipboard over and back for his passage, and – wonder of wonders! – was allowed to play jazz exactly as he wished, which is a very far cry from the days when Meyer Davis exercised a near-monopoly on seagoing music), and Loves Parting was the most frequently requested number in the book.
The final Friedman piece is Modes Pivoting. It is not another in the seemingly endless derivations of Milestones, but leans rather on a use of scales similar to Evans’.
As this album is released, Freidman, who is in his late twenties, is concerned with the problem of whether or not he can make a living by playing jazz. The economics of jazz are often brutal, but when one looks at the purely fashionable, players who exist quite comfortably by playing other men’s ideas as long as those ideas are stylish, it would be unfortunate indeed if there were not a place in the music for as skillful, evocative and committed a musician as Don Friedman.
DON FRIEDMAN’s previous Riverside album is –
A Day in the City (RLP 384; Stereo 9384)
Produced by ORRIN KEEPNEWS
Recoding Engineer: RAY FOWLER
Recorded at Plaza Sound Studios, New York City
Album design: KEN DEARDOFF
This Recoding is available in both Stereophonic (RLP 9431) form.
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are produced by BILL GRAUER PRODUCITONS, Inc.
235 West 46th Street New York City 36, New York