Ever since it’s entrance into the instrumental lexicon of jazz the string bass has served as a rhythmic anchor. No matter how far and wide modern bassists stretch the parameters of the instrument’s four strings its importance, as a fundamental musical fulcrum remains irrefutable. Friesen communicates a healthy respect for the traditional role of his instrument in his playing while at the same time surreptitiously subverting it. He employs similar subterfuge in his programmatic approach to this newly compiled disc of duets. Instead of limiting his interactions to a single partner he handpicks six skilled musicians to converse with. The tracks are organized in a linear fashion that allows each pair twice the opportunity exercise their collective improvisational muscles. In addition to encouraging relaxed, but invigorating interplay the itinerary also effectively breaks up the program into a range of exciting moods and variations.
With Friesen as the universal common denominator each piece is guaranteed to move and each of his guests seems to gain enthusiasm from his presence. I’ve personally never been a fan of Michael Brecker, particularly his more recent work, but his work on the reading of Sonny Rollins’ “Airegin” and the Friesen penned “Signs and Wonders” sounds truly inspired; a stirring balance between tasteful restraint and barn-storming intensity. Scofield formulates his customary slightly off-center groove chemistry on “True Blue” and “Old Folks,” and Clark Terry spins a soothing web of gentle swing on “I Want to Be Happy” and “Breeze.” Those expecting the Cool-toned Shank of old are in for a wake-up call with his work here. His easy tone is still present, but often tempered with a smoldering bite particularly on “Double Take.” The pieces with Zeitlin are the least satisfying if only because they lose some edge in the gentle waltz-like waves that unfurl from his keyboard. Kropinski’s style is equally relaxed but without the maudlin excess. He routinely adds rhythmic percussive accents with his fingers to the wooden body of his guitar alongside his blistering string-bending lines. This disc is a beautifully conceived and programmed release that merits your attention and fans of the bass will be particularly impressed by Friesen’s facility.