Up From the Bottom
David Friesen still brings the bass to new heights.
Thursday, September 29, 2005
Calling David Friesen a bass player is like referring to Eric Clapton as a guy who plays guitar, or Savion Glover as a hoofer. The description is true as far as it goes, but does little to convey the elegance, intensity and virtuosity with which Friesen performs on the upright.
A jazz veteran who has worked with straight-ahead masters such as Stan Getz and Dexter Gordon as well as edgy improvisers like Sam Rivers and George Adams, Friesen has long been regarded as one of jazz’s most expressive musicians. He has a knack for establishing deep, intuitive collaborations, perhaps most famously with pianist Denny Zeitlin, with whom he has recorded several duo albums.
He performs at the Jazz & Blues Company on Friday with another longtime collaborator, the versatile German guitarist Uwe Kropinski, an inventive player who often uses his guitar’s body as a percussion instrument. The Berlin-based Kropinski is featured on Friesen’s latest album, Two for the Show, which captures the bassist in a series of thrilling instrumental conversations with improvisers such as Zeitlin, Michael Brecker, John Scofield and Bud Shank.
With his huge, warm sound and dazzling pizzicato technique, Friesen doesn’t so much dominate as elevate small groups, creating a dynamic in which each musician is fully engaged in generating rhythmic and harmonic momentum. When soloing, he seems to be in total communion with the instrument, a connection established from the moment he first picked up a bass.
Raised in an artistic Seattle household—his sister is actress Dyan Cannon—Friesen began playing ukulele and accordion at 10. By 16 he was working as a guitarist. He discovered his aptitude for the bass while in the Army, stationed in Germany.
“I was in the soldiers service club and there was a bass lying in the corner next to a guy playing piano,” Friesen says. “I just saw the bass and picked it up to try to play along. It felt like it was love at first embrace.”
When he moved back to Seattle he began to study bass intensively. Part of a thriving young scene, he jammed regularly with future jazz stars Larry Coryell and Randy Brecker. As part of the house band at the Penthouse, the nightspot where Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Bill Evans performed when they came through town, he had the opportunity to sit in with jazz legends.
After short stints with alto saxophonist John Handy and pianist Marian McPartland in the early ‘70s, Friesen landed a two-year gig with tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson. But it was with trumpeter Ted Curson that he was given the most space to develop his astounding ability to sustain interest during extended solos.
Friesen emerged on the national jazz scene at a time when bassists inspired by Charles Mingus, Scott LaFaro and Paul Chambers were extending the instrument’s possibilities. Friesen was one of the players who brought the bass forward, so that it shared the front line.
“It’s still there to serve the harmonic value of each chord, and it’s there to serve the time,” Friesen says. “But it’s only natural that as horn players, pianists and drummers changed their styles harmonically and rhythmically, why not bassists?”
DAVID FRIESEN AND UWE KROPINSKI PLAY 7:30PM ON FRIDAY, SEPT. 30, AT THE JAZZ & BLUES COMPANY, SAN CARLOS AT 5TH, CARMEL. $40. 624-6432.