Another Time, Another Place - David Friesen Trio Live
"It has been said of David Friesen that he does for the art of bass playing what Pythagoras did for the triangle." - Patrick Hinley, Jazz Times.
Veteran jazz virtuoso David Friesen is a highly prolific bass player who has recorded over seventy-five albums as band leader and contributed to hundreds more. Known as one of only two or three bassists in the world who is able to play a solo concert and keep his audience riveted, he has also worked with a pantheon of jazz luminaries, including John Handy, Marian McPartland, Dizzy Gillespie, Woody Shaw, Freddy Hubbard, Art Farmer, Mose Allison, Milt Jackson, Elvin Jones, Philly Joe Jones, Paul Motian, Jack deJohnette, Stan Getz, Dexter Gordon, Kenny Garrett, Dizzy Gillespie, Ricky Ford, Sam Rivers, and Paul Horn. A technically adept, self-taught, and immensely intuitive musician, Friesen is also a forward-thinking performer whose albums touch upon spiritually minded contemporary jazz, folk, world traditions, and acoustic post-bop.
Born in Tacoma, Washington, of Ukrainian descent in 1942, Friesen grew up in Seattle, where he started playing accordion and ukulele, then picked up the guitar as a teenager. He first became interested in jazz after seeing Slim Gaillard perform at a local club, but it was not until he joined the Army that he began playing bass. Stationed in Paris and Copenhagen, Friesen had plenty of time to practice, rapidly improving his technique and playing with the likes of Johnny Griffin, Art Taylor, Dick Berk, and George Arvanitas. When he returned to the US in 1964, he continued his jazz pursuits, jamming with Randy Brecker, Larry Coryell, and the Pacific Northwest's legendary pianist/vibraphonist/vocalist Elmer Gill. He opened his own coffeehouse in Portland in the early 1970s and began playing regular gigs there, rapidly gaining the attention of the wider jazz world.
In 1975, Friesen toured Europe with Billy Harper, while his first album as a session leader Color Pool on Muse, featuring Jerry Heldman on bamboo flute and David Coleman Jr. on drums, appeared the same year. An atmospheric album with world music overtones, double-tracked bass parts, and lengthy meditative passages, it set the tone for much of the bassist's later recordings. He collaborated with guitarist John Stowell for a series of well-regarded albums for Inner City, including Star Dance (1976), Waterfall Rainbow (1978), and Other Mansions (1979), which showcased the duo's intricate mix of classical and folk-influenced jazz. During the 1970s, Friesen also spent several years in trumpeter Ted Curson's group, with whom he appeared at the 1977 Monterey Jazz Festival, and contributed bass to many albums, such as Curson's Jubilant Power, Duke Jordan's Duke's Artistry, and Steve Kindler's Across a Rainbow Sea.
Over the next several decades, Friesen continued to explore his hypnotic, meditative style of jazz, delivering albums like Paths Beyond Tracing (1980), Voices (1983) with Joe Henderson and Chick Corea, and Dedication (1985) with pianist Mal Waldron. In 1989, Other Times, Other Places reached No 11 on the Billboard Top Jazz Albums chart, while the ruminative Departure (1990) featured guest spots from Flora Purim and Airto Moreira. He then released a trio of more straight-ahead albums beginning with Two for the Show (1994), which found him in duets with Denny Zeitlin, Michael Brecker, John Scofield, and others. He followed up with Three to Get Ready (1994) featuring Clark Terry and Bud Shank, and Four to Go (1995) a quartet date with tenor saxophonist John Gross, flügelhorn player Gary Barone, and drummer Alan Jones, then returned to a more spiritual, contemporary sound for Still Waters (1997), Ancient Kings (1998), and Castles and Flags (1999), all on the Shamrock label.
In 2000 Friesen paired with guitarist Uwe Kropinski for Made in Berlin, followed a year later by With You in Mind with pianist Gary Versace. Another duo session, Grace, with pianist Jeff Gardner, appeared in 2002. The bassist then split his time between trio dates like Midnight Mood: Live in Stockholm (2004) and Connection (2006) with more sessions featuring Kropinski, including Made in Istanbul (2006) and Made with Friends (2008). He joined pianist Greg Goebel and drummer Charlie Doggett for a handful of introspective albums, including Brilliant Heart (2012), Bactrian (2015), and Triple Exposure (21016). In 2017 he delivered Structures on Origin Records, as well as the live trio recording at Auckland's Creative Jazz Club Another Time, Another Place, with Kiwi guitarist Dixon Nacey and drummer Reuben Bradley, on Rattle.
Friesen was nominated for best jazz bassist at the American Jazz Awards in 1997, listed as one of the twenty most influential bass players in the history of jazz in a 2006 poll, and more recently as one of the top 100 Greatest Jazz Bassists of all time. Given such a stellar track record it is understandable that Bradley and Nacey felt not only privileged, but also apprehensive about playing with such a living legend. But it was Friesen who asked Nacey to come on board, feeling he could handle the compositions - far from an easy feat, given their complexity. Since they were originally composed for piano the Auckland University professional teaching fellow and musical director of Christmas In The Park spent months transposing them for guitar and learning all the limpid lines and chromatic chord changes required. There was little rehearsal time, since Friesen only arrived in the country just before the tour started and they only had an hour working together before their first gig. Bradley and Nacey immediately discovered that the bassist demanded the very best of them.
Even for someone who has played in the NZ jazz scene for over twenty years and recorded three albums with the award-winning Sansom-Nacey-Hanse Trio, Nacey felt the pressure: “After the first rehearsal, I went back home and stayed up all night practicing for about nine hours straight. After that everything was fine. But as we went through the two weeks playing the tunes, I would workshop them and it got clearer and clearer and the music got better and better. It culminated in that final gig when the album was recorded, so it worked out best for us that we had all this time with the charts and we started to morph them off the page.” Graham Reid has characterized Bradley's drumming as "geometric," a useful talent when navigating such intricate and advanced topography. As Bradley commented "playing with David is a real treat; not only does he bring a wealth of experience to the music, but more importantly he brings a strong, vibrant personality that is evident in his playing and composing. The music demands a high level of commitment, but the payback is that you are able to traverse its depths more completely and communally."
At Wellington's newest jazz venue, the cozy and intimate Pyramid Cub, the trio clicked together from the opening bars, presenting many of the tunes from their marvelous new recording. Ingeniously complemented by Bradley and Nacey, Friesen alternately plucked, stroked, and slapped at his custom-made bass, curling over and around his instrument, leading without over-imposing, and coaxing out varying levels of intensity with just a smile or a glance. The seventy-five year-old (who has the wizened demeanour of a slightly demented, but charmingly congenial garden gnome) was never just backing the other musicians, but literally positioned right in the middle, directing and responding. His intuitively crafted and coherent solos combined a deep-toned, romantic approach with a clipped and funky swing at faster tempos. Fiery double-stops and intense lyrical passages alternated with softer, guitar-like strumming. Even when electrified, his Hemage bass (designed and constructed by Austrian Hermann Erlacher) is unmistakably a string instrument, and his lateral style exposed how utterly predictable and pedestrian most rock/fusion bass playing has become. The trio delivered a performance full of subtle nuance, delicate shadings, and elegant grace, demonstrating precisely why the Wellington Jazz Collective provides the ideal venue for discriminating musicians who enjoy presenting their work to an appreciative audience in an intimate and informal environment.
TRIVA NOTE: Friesen's sister is actress and avid Lakers fan Dyan Cannon.