David Friesen

Star Dance

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The Inner City CD reissue series has many fine recordings listed, and depending on your point of view and taste level, any of them might be considered important coming out of jazz in the mid- to late '70s. Bassist David Friesen's debut album, Star Dance, has to be considered pivotal and central in the stance of contemporary music for many reasons, not the least of which being that the playing of the musicians is excellent. It also sets a tone for the coming together of world musics -- in the spirit of the pioneering ensemble Oregon -- and has within its grasp both spiritual and earthy elements that few groups were able to merge. With elements culled from Friesen's upbringing in the Pacific Northwest, progressive jazz of the '60s, folk-rooted sounds, chamber music, and New York City funk, Friesen and his band sound as unique unto themselves as any band before, during, or after this time period. Paul McCandless (on loan from Oregon), fellow Pacific Northwest friend/electric guitarist John Stowell, and Big Apple studio drummer Steve Gadd are unlikely bedfellows with Friesen, yet achieve common-ground status within this broad mix of styles. McCandless plays the double-reeded English horn on the majority of these selections, and for the outstanding "Winter's Fall" coalesces with Friesen's sky church bowed harmonic bass alongside Stowell's tiny guitar notes, as Gadd's 7/8 beat takes over the three in a 4/4 funky midsection. The title track is a trio sans Gadd, which strikes a much more baroque and rural pose in unison lines. "Dolphin in the Sky" is dedicated to friend Jack Howell, a somber, slow tearjerker as if at a gravesite during a funeral, extracting great emotional depth, especially from McCandless. Dancing gleefully, "Mountain Streams" is a flowing, dense, and textural piece that taps into the natural, feminine side of life. On his more familiar oboe, McCandless plays with the full quartet during "Clouds," as the title suggests in a slow, wafting motif, while "Fields of Joy" is also unmistakably similar to the ancient and present music of Oregon, very composed, traipsing through rows of daisies, and breaking into a samba beat. There's a bass/drums duet improvisation, "1 Rue Brey," and an unaccompanied bass solo, "Children of the Kingdom," which readily reveals Friesen's religious center with strummed harmonics and a thematic-based ostinato for improvising off of. The sonic footprint created by this ensemble is both arresting and disarming -- a sound that uniquely speaks to a higher power and universal dialect. Now that the album is once again in print, there's no excuse to pass on this excellent recording, fused from many disparate elements and brilliantly performed by all the participants.

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