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David Friesen/Jeff Gardner: Grace

Bassist David Friesen is virtually naked in his new release, Grace (Khaeon), as half of a duo with pianist Jeff Gardner. It is an intellectual playing and listening experience. Friesen and Gardner are as sensitive and as anticipatory to each other’s styles, harmonic language and silences as earlier musical marriages in that genre: Evans-Gomez, Peterson-Pedersen, Ellington-Blanton.

Friesen plays a Hemage bass, which was made in Austria. He is quoted in the liner notes as saying, “It doesn’t have a scroll. I tune it below the bridge, so what acts as the tailpiece also acts as the tuning device.” The important thing is what emerges from the fingerboard: more poetry than power. He seldom walks; Friesen usually provides an obbligato to Gardner’s melodies yet always implies unmistakable tempi. It is most obvious on Gardner’s original “Dad’s Dream,” where the pianist tends to sound like a harmonically daring George Winston.

Other highlights: the Latin cushion Friesen provides Gardner on “Esquecendo”; the tricky double stops on “Blues for Hawk,” where Friesen also reveals how propulsive his walking can be; and finally, the creative deconstruction of “My Funny Valentine.” Gardner does most of the writing, and he’s the only jazz player I know of who can boast of having studied composition with the classical icon Nadia Boulanger.

Originally Published