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Don Friedman Trio: Waltz for Debby

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Don Friedman grew up in the San Fernando valley, when West Coast jazz was at its peak, then followed the jet stream eastward and absorbed every new keyboard style worth blending into his somewhat unique style. He’s now living proof that you can compare oranges and Big Apples.

Friedman must be the most elusive subject of a blindfold test, as these two releases attest. Technically, he boasts the chops of Ahmad Jamal, the elegance of Tommy Flanagan, the poetry of Bill Evans and the imagination of Keith Jarrett. Yet at 68 and playing at his most creative, there are no key words to pin down today’s essential style of Don Friedman. Such are the down sides of being a successful sponge.

Waltz for Debby was an inevitable coming together. Friedman and bassist George Mraz have worked together in the past; ditto Mraz and drummer Lewis Nash. How they avoided each other is one of those cosmic mysteries, but as you will hear they mesh so effortlessly, it should be the start of something consistent. There are no weak points, but there are tracks worth repeating, such as “I Concentrate on You.” Mraz never walks behind Friedman. He constantly provides a counterpoint without sacrificing the pulse. He also seldom plays root tones; his harmonic sense is simply too advanced. Note the way Mraz and Nash trade 16s (Ah, bless Cole Porter). Nash’s brushwork is outstanding. Friedman puts an introspective solo capper to the CD with “Old Folks.” He deserves the stretch-out room.

Because there is less focus on Friedman on My Foolish Heart, the quartet session is less successful, yet it offers enough to deserve a strong recommendation. Jed Levy is a first-rate tenorist; however, his best contribution comes on soprano with a salute to Sidney Bechet on the clarinetist’s “Petite Fleur.” Another homage, Friedman’s “Memory of Scotty,” offers Tim Ferguson’s heartfelt arco and pizzicato realization. Given his harmonic conception, Friedman’s intro to the title tune showed every indication of a solo journey, but alas, we had to settle for merely a lovely ballad. Talk about harmonic conception: The CD’s high point comes at the end with Friedman’s brilliantly disguised bop line on “All the Things You Are.” Making a good thing better, coming out of Tony Jefferson’s finest drum solo, Friedman and Levy (on tenor) share a contrapuntal chorus of two new bop lines before returning to the original unison ball-buster for the out chorus.