In jazz, for all of its love of the all-star session, the long-term collaboration is of utmost importance. There have been many such relationships: bassist Charles Mingus and reed player Eric Dolphy, saxophonist John Coltrane and drummer Elvin Jones, trumpeter Miles Davis and saxophonist Wayne Shorter. When players reach a level of understanding, notions of leaders and sidemen or soloists and accompanists become superfluous.
One such association is that of pianist Don Friedman and guitarist Attila Zoller. The two, on the surface, couldn't have started further apart; the former a New York-transplant via San Francisco, the latter arriving in the city from Hungary with a stop in Germany. But together, the music they made was sublime.
The pair first played together in the band of flutist Herbie Mann and then went on to record three astounding albums from 1964-66 with three different rhythm sectionsDreams And Explorations (OJC, 1964), The Horizon Beyond (OJC, 1965) and Metamorphosis (OJC, 1966). Though these albums are not well known now, at the time they received accolades and cemented both Friedman and Zoller's reputations. And though they would not record together again until much later, in a trio with Lee KonitzThingin' (hatART, 1995)Friedman and Zoller continued to perform together in New York City clubs until the guitarist's death in 1998.
Why the history lesson in a review of a new album? Well, since the albums with Zoller, Friedman has spent most of his time as a leader in those two formats most prized by pianistswith a rhythm section and solowhilst becoming more and more enamored of standards. And except for one session, appropriately entitled Attila's Dreams (Ephemeris, 1999), he did not record with a guitar. But this past December, I saw Friedman in his new haunt, The Kitano, in a quartet with guitarist Peter Bernstein, bassist Martin Wind and drummer Tony Jefferson. It was hoped that this group, one that recaptured the vision and energy of that long-past collaboration with Zoller, would record. And three months later they did. The result is Waltz For Marilyn.
Bernstein is a natural foil for Friedman. Interestingly, Bernstein studied with Zoller at a jazz camp during his youth and perhaps some of the elder plectrist's adventurousness rubbed off. And though Bernstein has made a good career for himself upholding the jazz guitar tradition handed down from Wes Montgomery, he distinguishes himself from the many copyists out there with his own personality and approach, one that doesn't eschew openness and even atonality when called for.
So for the majority who missed Friedman and Zoller together, and for those lucky enough to have seen them, Waltz For Marilyn is the next best thing. Friedman sounds absolutely invigorated, not just by Bernstein, but also by his dynamic rhythm section (keep in mind that those three Friedman/Zoller albums were quite different exactly because of their rhythm sections). The album mixes five Friedman originals with one tune by Wind and four standards, including a manic romp through Cole Porter's "What Is This Thing Called Love, which could be easily passed off as a modern jam by Phish.
In some ways, Waltz For Marilyn is a retrospective for Friedman. Bernstein does not play on four tunes of the album's ten and so those pieces, the ballads of the set, recall the relaxed trio work that Friedman has undertaken over the last several years.
The album ends with the cheekily-titled "Delayed Gratification." The longest track at almost 11 minutes, it recalls most closely the Friedman/Zoller dynamic in its open swing. Perhaps the opportunity to hear Friedman with an exploratory guitarist has been delayed for a while, but we are left witness to the beginnings of another beautiful friendship.
Tracks: Theme For Gee Tee; What Is This Thing Called Love?; Summer's End; Autumn Colors; Waltz For Marilyn; Vocé E Eu; Early Morning Blues; Never Let Me Go; Two For The Road; Delayed Gratification.
Personnel: Don Friedman: piano; Peter Bernstein: guitar; Martin Wind: bass; Tony Jefferson: drums.
Theme for Gee Tee; What Is This Thing Called Love?; Summer's End; Autumn Colors; Waltz for Marilyn; Voc
Don Friedman: piano; Peter Bernstein: guitar; Martin Wind: bass; Tony Jefferson: drums.