Walt Whitman was not the first person to claim to contain multitudes. In Greek mythology, Deucalion and Pyrrha were instructed by Themis to replace the loss of mankind (after the end of an Iron Age flood) by casting stones of the earth (reinstating men and women) behind them. The couple claimed, “Nos duo turba sumus” (“We two form a multitude.”). In our era, Larry Constantine, an American software engineer considered one of the pioneers of computing, has said, “A dynamic duo who work well together can be worth any three people working in isolation.” And I once wrote a poem celebrating thirty-eight years of marriage to the same person (now going on fifty-nine years with my wife Betty) by citing the names “Lea & Perrins, Proctor/Gamble, Tom & Jerry, Yang and Yin” as forerunners among other memorable duos.
Turning to the world of jazz (the focus for this particular blog): with on-the-spot improvisation at its heart, and once favoring late-night cutting contests and show-stopping solo excursions, the art of jazz might appear to be fiercely contestual, competitive—but it also fosters cooperation not often found outside an institution such as marriage (where, given the divorce rate, it does not always, obviously, reign or rule): a unique partnership in which superior talents set their egos aside and collaborate like Siamese twins who know each other’s thoughts, gestures, and whims by instinct, by heart—anticipating and responding to each other with ease and skill.
I drew up a list of my own favorite great jazz duos, and that list was long: Stan Getz and Kenny Barron, Hank Jones and Charlie Haden, Don Byas and Slam Stewart, Joe Pass and Ella Fitzgerald, Don Cherry and John Coltrane (or Coltrane with Thelonious Monk), Bill Evans and Tony Bennett, Marcus Roberts and Bella Fleck, Steve Lacy and Mal Waldron, Gerry Mulligan and Paul Desmond, Gary Burton and Makoto Ozone … the list goes on and on and on …
arriving at, for the purpose of this blog, bassists David Friesen and Glen Moore.
On the foundation of their fifty year association (they first met in Seattle in 1965) and paths that continued to cross (on tour in Europe and the USA, but also, when both were at home in Portland, Oregon); acknowledging their first record, In Concert, for Vanguard in 1977, and another duet recording, Returning, which followed in 1993; a special duet concert in Portland in 2013, touring Arizona playing concerts and presenting music clinics in February of 2015, and 13 concerts in Europe in March (one result of which is the recently released CD Bactrian, which I will attempt to do justice to, verbally, in a moment)—bassists David Friesen and Glen Moore take their rightful place among the great jazz duos: the CD fully supporting David’s belief that “this new recording represents something very special … not only representing some of what we both feel is the very best recorded music we have played together … but something else inside the notes that only happens when you must endure the wait of over 50 years.”
I first heard David Friesen perform at the Monterey Sheraton’s Bay Club and wrote about him for our local Monterey newspaper, The Herald, in March of 1988—and I have maintained twenty-seven years of constantly increasing admiration and respect for David and his work. The piece I wrote in 1988 was entitled “Jazz with Extra-Musical Purpose,” and that’s exactly what first attracted me to his considerable gifts (plural!) at the time. I felt that every note he played was infused with significance and intentionality; I felt that David saw the music, and humankind, not as ends in themselves, but as a means to celebrate the “gift” of life itself.
When I first heard David Friesen, he had played in the distinguished company of Joe Henderson, Stan Getz, Sam Rivers, and Duke Jordan. That evening at the Bay Club, he performed with a trio made up of himself, 22-year-old Phil Dwyer (sax and piano) and 25-year-old drummer Alan Jones. An inspiring, stunning instrumentalist, David was about as self-effacing as a leader dare get, yet always at the epicenter of the music. The trio offered a family tapestry filled with intricate and loving accord. I heard David Friesen again about a year later, with Paul Horn’s Quartet at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz, California. David’s solos were wonders of design: on-the-spot invention that swung, intelligence free of any hesitation. The group offered two Friesen originals: “Pathways” and “Festival Dance” (the latter just that: a syncretistic gambol, a joyful noise made unto the Lord).
In April 1995, Down Beat magazine published an article I wrote on David Friesen’s recorded work up to that time. The piece began: “What do Michael Brecker, Clark Terry, Denny Zeitlin, John Scofield, Bud Shank and Airto Moriera all have in common? The answer is David Friesen, a veteran Oregon bassist with a prodigious output of recent CDs.” I quoted what David told me was the rationale behind his abundant recording activity: “So I can survive. Basically, that’s the truth. Also, I have lots of ideas. I’m pretty diverse in what I do. There are so many styles of music I enjoy, and I’ve been fortunate to find record companies that will support my projects.”
At that time, a series of recordings for ITM Pacific included duets on Two For The Show and a trio on Three To Get Ready. David Friesen cited four criteria for selecting the artists for both CDs: individuality-independence, dedication to the music, the ability to “listen,” and variety. Two For The Show featured Friesen in duets with the fine yet disparate talents of Brecker, Terry, Zeitlin, Scofield, Shank and German guitarist Uwe Kropinski. Regarding this CD, I wrote about David Friesen’s resilience, saying that, like a marriage without children, a duo could be a dangerous undertaking: all focus and responsibility placed on the partners’ reciprocity—a difficult art or balancing act that required each participant to truly listen constantly, and respond fully. And that’s just what each of these duos did!
Throughout the years, from the time they first met in Seattle in 1965 until 1993, when David Friesen and Glen Moore recorded their second duo album together, Returning, Glen was engaged in a number of successful enterprises of his own. In the words of writer Lynn Darroch, “As founding member of the pioneer chamber jazz group, Oregon, Glen Moore helped redefine jazz in the late twentieth century.” Trained on both acoustic bass and piano, he cultivated, as a child, fondness for the European symphonic tradition. At age eighteen, he met guitarist, pianist, and composer Ralph Towner at the University of Oregon. Having earned a B.A. in history and having studied bass for a year in Copenhagen, Glen Moore went to New York in 1967, where he and Towner performed at Woodstock (with singer Tim Harden) and then, in 1970, created Oregon (with Paul McCandless: oboe, soprano saxophone, English Horn; and Colin Walcott, percussion, sitar, tabla)—a group Moore called “an improvising orchestra.”
Oregon recorded twenty-seven albums together—a double CD (Oregon in Moscow) among them, a recording made with the Moscow Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra. The group’s other accomplishments include its music allied with an Apollo mission to the moon (craters there bear the names of two of Oregon’s songs: “Icarus” and “Ghost Beads.”)—and Glen’s individual credits include collaboration with vocalist Nancy King; the debut of his “Firebat Suite” by the Philadelphia Symphony; and music composed for theater (Henry VI) and to accompany poets (Galway Kinnell, Joe Stroud, Al Young, Robert Hass, Philip Levine, etc.) at the Mountain Writers Center in Oregon.
After twelve years in New York and Europe, Glen Moore returned to Oregon in 1980, and took up residence in the Portland area. Reunited with David Friesen in 1993, they recorded the album previously cited, Returning, Moore’s acoustic Klotz bass (crafted in the Tyrol about 1715), on which—in the words of Lynn Darroch again—“he has made extensive use of a unique tuning with both a low and a high C string” merged with David Friesen’s circa 1795 N. Guignot (Mirecourt, France) and the Hemage bass, made by Hermann Erlacher, who offered expert craftsmanship after a solo concert in Innsbruck. Friesen–once an avowed acoustic purist–said the instrument allowed him to play “the music I hear within myself; a very warm, sustaining sound that’s not like an electronic bass. I’m not fighting the sound anymore. The whole course of art is dreams. You’ve got to be flexible enough to evolve; to allow the music to go where it’s supposed to go in life, and be flexible enough yourself to follow that.” –this matched with Glen Moore’s own words regarding the sound he prefers: “Using the technique of the classical guitar in order to expand the vocabulary of pizzicato bass is probably the thing I’ve spent most of my life learning and teaching.”
In the liner notes to Returning, W. Patrick Hinely wrote: “That David Friesen and Glen Moore would both live in the same city [Portland] in itself defies the laws of probability; think of all the regions on Earth which have zero bassists per capita, much less such giants of the instrument operating on their level—but then, since both so make their family homes in Portland, it then follows naturally that they’d record together on home ground, betwixt and between the frequent international travels necessary to make their livings.”
The recent CD I want to focus on now–Bactrian–is the result of both that international travel and “home grown” opportunity. It was recorded and mixed at Fattoria Musica, in Osnabruck, Germany; and post production took place at the hands of Dana White (Specialized Mastering) back in Portland. On it, both artists play piano, David Friesen Hemage Bass, and Glen Moore acoustic bass made by Heiner Windelband, Schloss Neu-Barenaue, Bramsche, Germany.
I won’t go through the CD track by track (there are eleven in all), but because these great artists are also great storytellers (as superior musicians from Beethoven and Hector Berlioz to Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis have been!), I will attempt to describe a few tracks, to give you a sense of the tales they tell and how David Friesen and Glen Moore go about inventing and then telling them (or do so simultaneously!). The first track, “Still Waters,” suggests just that: the placid waters of a lake upon which the notes, the timbre of each bass, provide concentric circles that spread, compatibly, throughout the piece. When David’s Hemage bass sings out, Glenn’s acoustic bass seems to nod in fully harmonious approval, the patterns accessible, simple, a perfect blend—“Still Waters” indeed, W.B. Yeats’ “Lake Isle of Innisfree” (“And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow … for always night and day/I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore …I hear it in the heart’s deep core.”).
I also thought of one of my favorite Zen koans, as retold by Shunryu Suzuki in his book, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind—about a “very interesting” frog: “He sits like us, too, you know. But he does not think that he is doing anything so special … A frog also sits like us, but he has no idea of zazen. Watch him. If something annoys him, he will make a face. If something comes along to eat, he will snap it up and eat, and he eats sitting. Actually that is our zazen—not any special thing.”
Effortless ease—or so it seems, but with years of practice, rigorous training, road trips, and homegrown performance behind it. The next track on Bactrian, “Free Play,” is also just that from the start: David’s bowed bass, Glen on piano, more suggestion than statement (yugen), handsome counterpoint, each artist taking his polite turn even within the overlay, providing not just decorative but truly meaningful stratum. The pace picks up: slapped bass, vamps, “hand drum” percussion, exciting, enticing rhythms emerging, gracefully yet forcefully—then back to a more discursive, soft, conversational mode, laced with David’s rippling finger work and a sudden close. Again: “Free Play” indeed!
Tunes such as “Hoe Down” and “Smooth as Silk” tell the stories the titles suggest (a gentle Appalachian “groove” to the first, Glen’s “big voice” bass, heavy boots on a well-swept floor; David’s agile “tabla” (percussive) patterns; David on piano for the second: a delicate silken texture to this tune, evocative melodic lines, tasteful respect and rapport—the restraint of Glen’s large sound that seems to melt back into the piano. Together, they do full justice to two standards, “Caravan” and “Summertime,” but I’d like to describe what I hear in two more original tunes: “Return,” with Glen Moore on piano, featuring his fine touch and a tasty melody over David Friesen’s embracing vamp, the piece taking us “from swerve of shore to bend of bay,” and bringing us “by commodious vicus of recirculation” (words of another Irish author: James Joyce) home. And, on “Time and Time Again/Brilliant Heart,” David plays solo piano: the entire piece flowing with beautiful heartfelt homage, a sense of loss, and the consolation of love.
The CD’s title piece is called “The Bactrian”–a camel, “a large, even-toed ungulate native to the steppes of Central Asia,” a creature gifted with two humps on its back (in contrast to the single-humped dromedary), a “beast of burden” in its region dating back to the Achaemenid Empire (559-330) which preceded Alexander the Great’s arrival in the area that is now Afghanistan—a handsome creature with a tolerance for “cold, drought, and high altitudes,” a characteristic that made it fit for caravan travel on the Silk Road, wearing its long, wooly coat of sandy beige and possessing a handsome beard and mane, sealable nostrils and extended protective eyelashes.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Expert storytellers that they are, David and Glen capture a sense of all that in the music itself: a camel lomp (I think I just coined a word!), a vamp on the part of both artists at the start that contains the slow and steady accretion of Hector Berlioz’ “Marche des Pelerins” (the second movement of his symphony for viola, Harold en Italie) or the persistent percussion of Ravel’s Bolero (“one long gradual crescendo,” in the composer’s own words): an intriguing, infectious melody and abiding harmony to take along on the 8:23 minute journey, abetted by particles of sand and wind-bowed additional background or ambiance over and beneath a beautiful arco solo (melodic, melancholy)—the trek appropriately symbolic of the journey these two musicians have made together, with an inviting (not concluding) fade as the caravan moves off into the future’s distance at the close. Perfect!
In his book Musicophilia, Oliver Sacks quotes neuroscientist Daniel Levitin on the “multiple attributes or ‘dimensions’ we perceive when we listen to music,” and lists those Levitin cites: “tone, pitch, timbre, loudness, tempo, rhythm, and contour (the overall shape, the up and down of melodies).” People enjoy attending concerts (of whatever nature or genre) because they anticipate the added musical ingredients of spaciousness, voluminosity, richness, resonance—additional dimensions, just as folks occupying an art gallery are there not just to appreciate chroma and texture, but depth and distance as well, the perceptual and emotional dimensions that stereoscopical vision affords.
All of these attributes are present in the music that David Friesen and Glen Moore make together, intimate as it is in a duo setting for instruments that generally take a back seat in music, provide “rhythm section” support for trumpets, trombones, saxophones, etc. The two bassists are truly “orchestral” in scope—in execution and invention.
I have been privileged to write three articles on David Friesen, and also write about his scene-stealing, noisy-audience subduing performance with Ted Curson at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1977 (Monterey Jazz Festival: Forty Legendary Years), his performances with Paul Horn in the Soviet Union (Unzipped Souls: Jazz Journey Through the Soviet Union), a five hour interview we undertook published in two sections in Cadence magazine in 2005, and liner notes for six of his CDs: Departures, Three To Get Ready, Four to Go, The Name of a Woman, Five and Three, and Where the Light Falls.
(Photo credits: Courtesy of David Friesen; Ron Hudson)
After listening to Bactrian, I realized that most of what I had written could apply equally to what David and Glen play together. About the 1995 Burnside CD 1,2,3, I said that the discovery of the brilliant German guitarist Uwe Kropinski and the alert work of young pianist Randy Porter and drummer Alan Jones proved Friesen a master talent scout, but the same can be said of Glen Moore, who has performed with a host of international artists: Celtic singer Loreena McKinnet, oud player Rabin Abou-Khalil, sitarist Ravi Shankar, tabla player Trilok Gurtu, and the Kronos Quartet. And after all, early on, the two discovered each other!
For Where the Light Falls, I wrote that some individuals can only improve, get closer to a state of perfect performance rather than slow down or fall short with age. In philosophy, Aristotle called the act “entelechy”: the genuine fulfillment of potential. In theology, Thomas Aquinas applied Aristotle’s concepts to pure being in a state of complete realization (in both essence and existence). In our time, the phrase “self-actualization” was much tossed around—but most of us would more than likely settle for the simple hope of getting “better and better” with age. Getting much better with age is not only true of David Friesen, as I wrote then, but David and Glen Moore now.
I’d once written that David had gone from being “an exceptional bassist” to being “a veteran virtuoso whose technique and passion inspire not just admiration, but awe”—so how can one add to that, or go beyond that now? I believe the answer is: the virtuosity of David Friesen and Glen Moore on the Bactrian CD no longer calls strict attention to itself but serves, at present, the import of every note they play, providing work that fully embraces and embodies maximum emotional and spiritual significance on every level. How does one “better” the “best”? By setting the standards even higher, “ascending” a notch or more by virtue of fully matured skill and soul. In other words: absolute fulfillment, or “entelechy.”
For the 2009 CD Five & Three, I wrote, “‘Only connect …,’ E.M. Forster wrote as an epigraph to his novel Howards End. Connection – or heightened musical (and human) interaction – is the hallmark of David Friesen’s newest CD. I have praised David as a distinctive stylist on bass, a master musician who infuses every note with extra-musical purpose; a passionate performer, a prodigious composer, and a leader highly regarded for the company he assembles and keeps. Just when I think I’ve used up all the terms available to describe him (diverse, resilient, fiercely concentrated, totally dedicated, innovative, unique), he brings out fresh work full of the rich ‘collective’ rewards of Five & Three. It’s one thing to be a first-rate talent scout capable of finding the best musicians to work with; it’s another to shape such groups so that each individual stands out yet inspires the whole – and to do so by providing fully arresting and stimulating compositions and performance oneself – all done, as David told me, without set arrangements OR rehearsals! What you will hear is completely spontaneous, improvised interaction – collaboration on the highest most congenial level; on the spot work fully awake to every imaginative possibility: ‘play’ freely yet unavoidably laced into closer and closer union.”
And every word said there is equally true of what David and Glen Moore have accomplished in Bactrian.
(Photo credits: Jorg Detering; Hiroshi Iwaya)
Glen Moore and David Friesen are two musical artists who have consistently produced excellence: true giants operating on the highest level. Year after year (and for fifty years now) they have raised the bar of expectation and fulfillment, until it would appear that they can ascend no higher—yet I will not be at all surprised when, possessing the seemingly infinite talent they have (the extent of their rare gifts, their compatibility and natural consonance) they do so: offering future work we shall all be privileged to hear. Thank you, David Friesen and Glen Moore!