Cup O' Joe is a surprisingly upbeat and enjoyable debut album for St. Louis-born guitarist Joe Friedman. After playing alongside contemporaries like Cyrus Chestnut and ably providing guitar duties on tour for chanteuse Eartha Kitt, Friedman was given the chance to record his first album as a leader by a fellow Oberlin College alumni, producer and drummer Neal Smith. Alumni brotherhood aside, Smith obviously saw a certain special something in Friedman's playing and his instincts were apparently right on the mark, since that something special comes through so brilliantly loud and clear on this outing.
Ably assisted by the restrained Smith on drums; a facile and tasteful George Colligan on piano; the ever-subtle but rock-steady Peter Washington on bass; and percussionist Renato Thoms lending support, Friedman nimbly but soulfully plays through a variety of well-selected tunes, all demonstrating that this boy has chops. His technique, while amply quick, is respectfully bluesy and can trace its roots to tinges of players like early George Benson and perhaps elder statesman Kenny Burrell in his Jimmy Smith days. His playing is well thought-out and logical, but within it comes nuances of phrasing that are soulfully executed, with great deference to the production of a classic, clean blues-oriented tone reminiscent of Grant Green. When listening, it's easy to realize Friedman is not just another good guitarist.
His playful treatment of "Pure Imagination from the Willy Wonka movie soundtrack is a case in point, where the music is successfully taken from outside the normally traveled paths of jazz guitar. "Darker Shade of Rose is a fine example of his compositional and arranging skills. The tune starts out with a slow and pretty interplay between Friedman's sensitive guitar and Washington's restrained bowed bass, and quickly heats up to a scorching demonstration of some fine, slow-hand jazz/blues guitar work; a real treat. Throughout the outing, Friedman is accompanied by an able rhythm section, with special mention to Colligan's bow to Monk on the maestro's "Bolivar Blues.
Washington's bouncing bass and the jumpin' solo piano work by Colligan, on the cleverly rendered Isley Brothers tune "Who's That Lady, are perfect compliments to Friedman's free-swinging, extended fret work. A delicately fingered acoustic version of the seminal "'Round Midnight shows the sensitive side to Friedman's playing, especially as he seamlessly melds the tune into a melancholic version of the unlikely "Battle Hymn of the Republic.
Cup O' Joe is a tasteful first effort from Joe Friedman, a record that stands up well to repeated listening and offers a new voice to be watched for in the world of jazz guitar.
Track Listing: Pure Imagination; Bolivar Blues; A Darker Shade of Rose; Cup O'Joe; My Romance; Who's That Lady; 'Round Midnight; Myna Bird Blues; Stairway to the Stars; Blowin' the Blues Away.
Personnel: Joe Friedman: acoustic and electric guitars; George Colligan: piano; Peter Washington: bass; Neal Smith: drums; Renato Thoms: percussion.