5 September 2011

What connections!

It’s a tale, tall but true, that those who survive are well connected. In jazz, performers note their connections as their CV. I looked up those for Don Friedman’s quartet on Wikipedia and it’s a stunner. It includes, but doesn’t stop at, Ornette Coleman, Chet Baker, Pepper Adams, Booker Little, Michel Petrucciani, Stan Getz, Pointer Sisters and Dionne Warwick. I could have guessed. These guys were mature, capable, absolutely swinging and committed and hard working. The long first set said it all. This was a blast. Hot and inventive playing, impassioned and hard-hitting. And in a little club like Smalls where they have to climb over you just to get gear in and out.

First on I noticed a seventies world-jazz vibe. Perhaps it was the rippling piano, the earnest flute and the syncopated bass that reminded me of a favourite album by Norman Connors. I mentioned it to Don and he didn’t recall it. But then into good solid hard-bop with piano that was nicely behind the beat in solos. Bass that was hard swinging, unintrusive in accompaniment with steady and beautifully predictable patterns, but authoritative solos that steadied then exploded up the neck with runs of easy speed, soft tone and accurate pitch. This was two hands as one on piano, all melded together to express easy chords over varying ranges. Soprano sax that also fit the ‘70s era with indistinct pitches pleading through various alterations and perhaps Arabic scales. Most of the tunes were originals, and mostly they were approached as hard-bop, sharing solos and swapping fours between heads. But there were also ballads and a classical interlude with Don’s Chopinesque and a new melody to the chords of All the things you are, called Almost everything, rewritten in the tradition of the boppers. They finished on a What is this thing called love, with a final touch of Hothouse. And hot it was in Smalls. This was hot and loud playing, committed and powerful swing and I loved it.

Don Friedman (piano) led a quartet with Mel Martin (flute, soprano, tenor sax), Harvie S (bass) and Eliot Zigmund (drums) at Smalls, NYC.

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