Don Friedman – honoring Booker Little…
Don Friedman – Strength and Sanity – Newvelle NV004LP – audiophile vinyl (Available only through newvelle-records.com) ****:
(Don Friedman – piano/ Phil Palombi – bass/ Shinnosuke Takahashi – drums)
For jazz vinyl and CD collectors with extensive collections, it is often a chore to keep track of our most valuable recordings, those that we want to pull out and revisit when the inspiration hits and we need to be moved again. This is especially pertinent at this time when our world is rather chaotic. For me, I keep these treasures handy by not pushing the CD jewel cases and LPs back against the walls or storage shelves. Thus they remain within vision in my everyday world. Whether it is your favorite Blue Note Hank Mobley, or whatever Bill Evans Trio that still tugs at your heart, they are within reach when the need for sanity returns.
Speaking of “sanity,” one CD that has always been completely free to breathe in my listening room is the xdcd version of Circle Waltz by Don Friedman from 1962. Backed by Chuck Israels and Pete LaRoca, this session matches up well with the iconic Bill Evans Trio of Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian.
When I heard about the impending release of an audiophile LP from Newvelle Records from Don Friedman honoring the often neglected genius of Booker Little, I was very intrigued. Booker Little was a jazz trumpeter who died at age 23 after issuing only four recordings as a leader. Like both Clifford Brown and Fats Navarro, Little was just beginning to share his genius with the jazz world when he was taken from us well before age 30. Don Friedman played on what was Booker Little’s crowning recorded achievement, Out Front, issued in 1961, and featuring Eric Dolphy, Julian Priester, Ron Carter, Art Davis, and Max Roach. What stands out in paying another visit to Little’s masterpiece is how sophisticated and passionate Little’s composing was at such a young age. Booker mixes bop and classical influences with song titles (“Strength and Sanity,” “Man of Words,” “Quiet Please,” “We Speak”) that are not just teasers for easy listening jazz. This is music of substance and Little’s trumpet attack, especially on “Man of Words” show he had much to share.
Don Friedman was another musician who can not be easily categorized. He was at home on both gentle ballads as well as avant-garde explorations. Often blending dissonance with stretched notes, Don’s range is broad from Bill Evans and Bud Powell, an early run with West Coast stalwarts, and encounters with a then unknown Ornette Coleman. Friedman had more extended stops with Hungarian guitarist Attila Zoller and Clark Terry’s big band. As you can see, Friedman had “open ears” and wide musical interests.
Recorded in Sept. 2015, roughly eight months before his passing from cancer, Don’s Newvelle Records audiophile quality vinyl issue is in a trio setting. Don is backed by bassist Phil Palombi, and drummer Shinnosuke Takashashi. The acoustics are stunning, par for the course of all prior Newvelle vinyls. The throbbing bass lines and shimmering cymbals have an “in the room” presence. The trio is blended impeccably and each instrument holds its own in the final mix.
It took awhile for me to re-explore Little’s compositions without wanting to hear horns, especially Booker’s trumpet. However, this was Don’s date to give his interpretation of Little’s genius in a piano trio setting. I loved the interplay between the trio on “Looking Ahead,” as Don’s playing is vibrant and intuitive. I found myself nodding my head in time to Phil Palombi’s bass lines. “Strength and Sanity” is powerful while entering the classical realm. It approaches Little’s somber and sonorous version and that is high praise.
“Victory and Sorrow” features well crafted solos by Palombi and Takahashi. “Man of Words” is a fitting closer with its bowed bass and attention grabbing dissonance.
Newvelle Records keeps up its winning ways with this release. Kudos go out to Elan Mehler for having the initiative to reach out to Don Friedman for him to share his past creativity in honoring the compositional talents of Booker Little. [It is worth the expense if you have a decent turntable setup…Ed.]
Side A: Moods in Free Time, Looking Ahead, Quiet Please, Strength and Sanity
Side B: Calling Softly, Victory and Sorrow, We Speak, Man of Words