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Don Friedman

From A to Z


by Ian Mann

November 20, 2006


There is much to admire here and Friedman's intellectual and scholarly approach is likely to appeal to fellow pianists and hardcore solo piano fans.

This solo piano recording by San Francisco born Don Friedman is in part a tribute to his former musical colleague Attila Zoller (1927-1998). Zoller was a guitarist and composer from Hungary. He began playing jazz in his homeland and also worked in Austria and Germany before moving to the USA in 1959. In the States Zoller worked with many important jazz figures- among them Herbie Mann, Red Norvo and Benny Goodman plus fellow guitarists Jim Hall and Kenny Burrell. In the mid 60’s Zoller collaborated in a quartet with Friedman recording the album “The Horizon Beyond” (1965).

Friedman’s new album opens with four pieces from the pen of Zoller. Of these “A Thousand Dreams"and the gentle “Alicia’s Lullaby” are probably the most effective.

Friedman’s own “Blues For Attila” closes the album, a heartfelt tribute with a genuine blues feel.

The Zoller and Zoller inspired material bookend the album and thus helping to give the album it’s A to Z title. In between Friedman performs three more original compositions as well as tackling material by Cole Porter and Thelonious Monk.

Like Zoller Friedman is a distinctive musician who likes to avoid the obvious. He uses dense clusters of notes and percussive elements to ensure that his music has some rough edges and is not overly “pretty”. This approach, however, sounds rather too dry and academic over the course of a whole album. His approach lacks the accessibility or lyricism of Keith Jarrett and despite the quality of Friedman’s playing and some sparkling moments I found listening to the entire album a little wearing.

His take on Monk’s “Ask Me Now” is particularly enjoyable but I was less keen on his deconstruction of Porter’s “I Concentrate on You”.

Of the original material ” Free Flow”, “Memory of Scotty” and the title track all combine balladry with Friedman’s more rigorous approach. Lyrical introductions give way to intense, rolling passages of tightly concentrated notes before coming full circle and resolving themselves peacefully. “Memory of Scotty” features the most lyrical playing on the record and is the most reminiscent of Jarrett’s approach. If my ears don’t deceive me “Free Flow” even throws in a quote from “How Deep Is The Ocean”.

“Straight Ahead” maintains a high tempo throughout but is something of a triumph of style over substance.

There is much to admire here and Friedman’s intellectual and scholarly approach is likely to appeal to fellow pianists and hardcore solo piano fans. Unlike Jarrett, however, I don’t envisage him reaching out to a wider constituency. For all Friedman’s technique I ultimately found the album a little dull.

Friedman’s album is subtitled ‘Piano Works vi’ and is the latest in a series of solo piano albums released on Germany’s ACT label.

The others are;

i, Joachim Kuhn “Allegro Vivace”

ii, George Gruntz “Ringing The Illuminator

iii, Kevin Hays “Open Range”

iv, Ramon Valle “Memorias”

v, Simon Nabatov “Around Brazil”

These first five albums are also available as a box set.

Tracks from these albums also appear on the compilation “Romantic Freedom 2” which also features contributions from other artists such as Esbjorn Svensson and Bugge Wesseltoft.

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