Ever since the late 1960s, Portland bassist and composer David Friesen has been an important part of jazz in the Pacific Northwest. He cut his teeth in Seattle's avant-garde coffee house scene, a period he documented recently in another two disc set titled "..." In the 1970s, often in company with guitarist John Stowell, Friesen pioneered an approach that came to be called New Age music, as did another Friesen associate in those years, flautist Paul Horn. That association resulted in a 1984 tour of the Soviet Union (with Stowell and Horn's son on drums) that made them the first jazz group to play concerts open to the public since the 1940s. He worked extensively with pianist Mal Waldron in the 1980s and '90s, and he has always and continues to tour ceaselessly, often to Western Europe, where a few tracks from this double CD were recorded.
Just as he did with a trio featuring pianist Randy Porter and drummer Alan Jones in the early 1990s, Friesen leads another intuitive and exceptionally talented group here, with Greg Goebel on piano and Charlie Doggett, drums. And he's often said the same thing of this trio as he did of his band with Porter and Jones: "Every time it's different. We never play a tune the same way twice. There are no arrangements; and really, no rehearsals. We just listen to each other and play."
The tunes here, all by Friesen, take an emotional rather than a compositional shape, it seems to me, as the intensity rises and falls without frequent reference to melody. Built as they are on extensive improvisation, and often outside traditional 32-bar song form, that can lend a sameness that at times left me adrift. Not everyone will listen to the two discs all at once, however, and the passages of intricate counterpoint, rhythmic agility and soaring beauty are reward enough.
Nearly half the tracks also feature guitarist Larry Koonse, a frequent collaborator on Friesen's recordings. At times, the guitar frees up Goebel to play more single-note lines and rely less on dense chords. But my favorite pieces are the trio tracks. Doggett and Goebel frame Friesen's penetrating Hermage electric bass--an instrument he's used for more than 20 years--providing a a supportive canvas for his fluid and expressive solos. The trio pieces range from the upbeat, busy and breezy ("Counterpart") to the quietly menacing "Dark Resolve." Goebel is showcased throughout, but his pianistic approach is in full flight on "Unfolding," one of Friesen's strongest melodies. The syncopated figure Goebel plays on "Day of Rest" is rhythmically the most fascinating passage in the set--recorded at several locations in both studio and live sessions.