David Friesen is a creative bassist with a poetic sensibility whose prolific recorded output has mostly failed to capture the magic he can conjure live. His new double album, Connection, another self-produced low-budget Friesen project, is not without issues. But it is his strongest record in years.
The first CD contains 15 duo tracks (13 of them Friesen originals) with guitarist Larry Koonse, recorded in a Phoenix, Ariz. studio in 2005. The second disc adds drummer Joe LaBarbera, features mostly standards, and was recorded in a La Jolla, Calif. studio in 2001. The sonic quality is different yet equally undistinguished on the two CDs. Friesen plays the Hemage bass, a rare electric instrument made in Austria whose thin, sometimes nasal sound (as portrayed on these recordings) is one-dimensional. The Hemage bass seems an odd instrument choice for a player devoted to elegiac nuance.
Buy Connection anyway, especially if you like to listen after midnight. There is remarkable continuity of mood, tone and texture across these CDs, uniting music four years apart from various composers into a suite; a single meditation. This is chamber-jazz of deep, pensive quietness.
Larry Koonse shares many of Friesen’s best qualities—harmonic erudition, melodic subtlety, active listening skills and a gift for lines of elaborate extension that still converge. The connection between these two is such that they seamlessly, sometimes almost indistinguishably, share the narrative of every song. Friesen compositions like “With Discretion” and “Stars Moving Slowly Above” are melodic and harmonic notions—suggested more than specified and open to further introspection.
The CD with both LaBarbera and Koonse has “Dedicated to You” by Sammy Cahn, a piece so ephemeral that three musicians don’t so much play it as whisper it to themselves. “Old Folks” and “My Funny Valentine” are poignancy expressed in the barest outline, lyricism emerging for moments and then receding into shadow and flickering again.