At a venerable 71 years old, California-born pianist Don Friedman still has his formidable technique firmly in place. He's playing with the attack of a young manand the devil-may-care abandon of a mature artist wholly at ease with himself.
The subtitle From A To Z refers to Friedman's friend and collaborator, the Hungarian guitarist Attila Zoller (1927-98), to whose memory this album is dedicated. Friedman and Zoller first played together in Herbie Mann's band in the early 1960s, and by mid-decade they were leading their own West Coast-based quartet.
The reason why Friedman has waited eight years to record this memorial to Zoller is possibly explained by the performances themselves, which are passionate, vivid and unmistakably heartfelt. I suspect that Friedman had to let time do some of its healing before he immersed himself in such intense reminiscences of his friend.
The album starts with four Zoller compositions. The opening "Meant To Be" and "When It's Time," big ballads with dark corners, are followed by the jauntier "A Thousand Dreams," which in turn is followed by the tender "Alicia's Lullaby." Through the sequence you can feel Friedman first grieving, then remembering the good times, and finally letting go and saying goodbye. At least, that's how it seems to me. With the exception of Cole Porter's "I Concentrate On You" and Monk's "Ask Me Now," the other tunes are Friedman originals.
Friedman's harmonic sophistication is often compared to that of Bill Evans. He has a vigorous rococo keyboard style, full of candenzas and other flourishesbut these extravagances are never mere clutter. Every note means something. Always lyrical, his melodicism is set off by touches of dissonance, and he has the forceful physicality of some free players. He can be affectingly gentle, as on "Alicia's Lullaby" and his own "Memory Of Scotty," composed for another friend. And he lets in the sunlight too: "Ask Me Now" is given a wonderfully carefree reading, while "Blues For Attila" closes the album with a rollicking, cathartic stomp.
Though it's a memorial and it contains some sorrowful moments, Piano Works VI is a fundamentally joyful and cheering album, and one of rewarding depth. Probably the most completely satisfying release yet in ACT's ongoing solo recital series.
Meant To Be; When It's Time; A Thousand Dreams; Alicia's Lullaby; I Concentrate On You; Free Flow; Memory Of Scotty; From A To Z; Ask Me Now; Straight Ahead; Blues For Attila.