DON FRIEDMAN: FLASHBACK
DON FRIEDMAN TRIO
Don Friedman (p) Dick Kniss (b) Dick Berk (drs)
Plaza Sound Studios, NYC; May 16, 1963
Alone Together (4:38)
Ballade in C-Sharp Minor (6:25)
Wait Till You See Her (4:18)
News Blues (4:59)
Ochre / Theme-Solo-Duet-Theme (7:45)
How Deep Is the Ocean? (4:59)
Flash Back (6:56)
That Don Friedman is no ordinary jazz pianist was apparent from his first two albums. This, his third effort (and to my mind his best to date) for Riverside, consolidates the 28year-old San Franciscan’s position at the forefront of his generation of genuinely creative musicians.
There are many faces to Don Friedman’s approach, and most of them are illuminated here. There is his very personal way with superior “standards”(Alone Together; How Deep …) – a way which invests the familiar with new dimensions, yet never violates the integrity of the material. The is his own way of swinging a blues line (News Blues) – again both fresh and “traditional”. These are Don’s credentials; proof that he masters both hithe titles art and craft.
But the essence of Don Friedman’s music is in his own pieces – and real pieces of music they surely are. There are three Friedman originals in addition to the one blues) on this album. Ballade in C-Sharp Minor is a calm, lucid and reflective composition with the emphasis on melodic invention – and example of contemporary romanticism. (Jazz is the only contemporary music which does not shy away from lyric directness and singing melody and still is real music.) The two other pieces, Orchre and the title tune, take us into new, uncharted territory, but do so with logic, clarity and cohesion.
In this, they differ from some of the musical enterprises generally included under the headings of “The New Thing” or “Free (dom) Jazz”. The concept of musical freedom is not a simple one, and it is certainly not to be confused with anarchy. Freedom in music, as elsewhere in human activity, can be a thing of beauty, but beauty does not spring from chaos. Happily Don Friedman, even in his most challenging work, always seems in full command of musical fundamentals. He seems to know that all real music rests, firmly and finally, on the ability to order sounds in a way that communicates sensibly to the listener – be he aware of the mysteries of the musical language or not.
Nor does Don Friedman, when talking about his music, mystify his listener with the science-fiction mumbo-jumbo in which the higher strategists of avant-garde music (“serious” as well as “jazz”) love to indulge. He just makes sense. In describing the two pieces closest to his heart, Friedman offers basic guide-posts which will enhance the listerner’s enjoyment of the music.
“Ochre,” says Friedman – a relaxed, soft-spoken and gentle man whose quiet intensity reaches full expression only when he is seated at the keyboard – “takes its title from a painting of the same color. The theme is in several different meters, but the improvisations have no meter. The form of these improvised sections (piano solo and duet for bass and drums) uses the melodic construction of the theme as the basis.” This piece, which reminds this listener most pleasantly of Bartok’s Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion (not because it is derivative – it isn’t – but because it has similar thrust and color), gives Friedman the opportunity to employ his pianistic brilliance in a musical way, and makes his consistent harnessing of technique to taste in “ordinary” playing circumstances doubly impressive.
Flashback is, tome, the most exciting and fully realized piece in the album. The title does not allude to the well-known cinematic (and literary) device, but points back to the beginnings of Friedman’s involvement with music. This started early. He began to take piano lessons at five, but a year or so prior to this he “used to play for myself. Some of the things I used to hear then I’ve gone back to here.” Again, he outlines the musical scheme lucidly: “The theme is in the AABA form, and has no harmonic structure. The solos are freely improvised. The bass solos first, with a background of “sound effects” – timbres – from piano and drums. The piano solo is in the following sections: theme (solo); development (trio); theme (solo). There follows as drum sol which bridges back to the main theme.”
Friedman’s solo flight fairly leaps at the listener with brilliant, crisply two-handed piano fireworks. He creates some of his “sound effects” by reaching into the piano to touch the strings with his hand. To the question: is it jazz? (since it does not “swing” in strict measured cadences) one might answer: in feeling and impact, yes. To call it simply “modern music”, as some will choose to do, begs the question, for the important fact to bear in mind is that Don Friedman has developed his gifts in a jazz environment. That Bartok should be the “classical” composer his music brings to mind makes sense, too – the great Hungarian master took his inspiration from the violent, rhythm and largely improvised folk music of the Gypsy, and his music has a color and vitality which one would be hard put to discover in the work of the electronic marvels of the present day.
In his approach to the everyday materials of a jazz player, Don Friedman never lapses from good taste. His harmonies, somewhat similar to the impressionistic palette favored by Bill Evans but very personal just the same, never become band. He has feeling and expresses it freely, but his sentiments never turn sugary. He swings, but never indulges in obvious rhythmic devices. Good taste is a shopworn expression, but rather than inventing a cute metaphor let’s just say that Don Friedman has it, and keeps it inviolable.
The threesome heard on this album is a working unit, not a studio-wrought entity. These three young men have appeared together in New York City at the Five Spot, the Village Gate and at Judson Hall. But the demands of making a living in jazz today do not always allow for ideal work situations. So, when circumstances require it, Don goes on the road and works with other groups. He does not strike the self-conscious pose of the “I’m-an-artist-and-have-to-express-myself” crowd , but goes out and does his swinging best for the man who hires him and pays his wages. In the past several months, Don has work with, among others, the Al Cohn-Zoot Sims group and Bobby Hackett (“Bobby is a swinger, isn’t he … I didn’t know much about him when I joined, but it worked out beautifully”), and at this writing is in Herbie Mann’s percussion-conscious sextet.
Drummer Dick Berk, who looks like a reincarnation of Tiny Kahn, is a Californian who worked with Benny Goodman and on one of Billie Holiday’s very last engagements and who obviously loves Don’s music. Bassist Dick Kniss, a young man of serious visage, knows his instrument, and though he doesn’t always walk he certainly talks.
A few highlights from the rest of the program: Don’s flair for melody, “floating” chords and fine coda on Alone Together; his unaccompanied opening statement of Richard Rodgers’ Wait ‘til You See Her (“I heard Geoffrey Holder sing this – he sings too, you know – and liked it right away”); the sprung rhythms in the theme statement of News Blues, which settles into a good groove and reminds that Carlie Parker is one of Don’s favorite musicians; the way don’s altered chords color his statement of one Irving Berlin’s very best, How Deep Is the Ocean, proving how a shade of dissonance can enhance a melody, and the easy swing of the ensuing improvisation.
Finally, let’s not overlook the good sound Don Friedman gets from a piano. It has been well captured here, and so has the rare gift for making beautiful, listenable music that is Don Friedman’s. It is a pleasure to watch him grow.
DAN MORGENSTEIN, Editor, JAZZ
Don Friedman’s previous albums, on Riverside are –
A Day in the City (384; stereo 9384)
Circle Waltz (431; stereo 9431)
NOTE: all 7 titles also on SMJ-6094 & VIJJ-30044, VICJ-60486CD, UCCO-9081CD
RM(S9)-463 “Flashback” Produced by Orrin Keepnews; recording Engineer: Ray Fowler
Notes written by Dan Morgenstern (Editor, JAZZ) cover design by Ken Deardoff.
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are produced by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
235 West 46th Street, New York 36, N. Y.