Jerry Heldman




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MUSIC REVIEW BY Chris Lunn, Ancient Victorys


These historic Northwest jazz recordings are from Seattle and Portland from 1973 and 74 with a stellar band called Morning Star. Friesen and Heldman met in the early sixties in Seattle. Both were bass players and influenced by the work of Scott Lafaro. They played and wrote music as well as being close friends. So they would not be limited to two bass players, both were self-taught piano players. After years of developing, in the 1970's they were both in the Portland area and put together the band heard here with Sam Lipuma, a talented guitarist out of Chicago, and a very creative drummer, Allan Pimentel from San Francisco.

Friesen opened the Selah Coffeehouse in Portland in 1972 to create music. They liked to develop their own music and then whoever walked in would join in. A number of the Morning Star shows were taped or recorded on cassette players of the day. Friesen - an internationally recognized bassist, composer, multi-recording and award winning artist and instructor - called Heldman "without a doubt one of the most prolific and creative artists I have had the pleasure to play music with and be inspired by." That says a lot since Friesen's list of collaborators is a jazz legacy list. Heldman died and that could have been the end of the story, but one day, Heldman's family handed Friesen a bag of tapes, and out of that came these CDs.

The sound is obviously dated, but the music is superb. Both Heldman and Friesen had strong religious roots and it comes across. The CD title and opening talk with flute by Heldman on "Revelation 22." "Joy in the Lord" has an electric keyboard with a heavy Friesen bass and exquisite crisp drum tastes of Pimentel. Many cuts are jamming on the tunes these two had written with space to develop solos from two to five minutes. This was a group exploring, giving space to and intimately aware of each others gifts as musicians and creators. The guitar builds bordering on jazz-rock. Heldman's work here is chord driven, and both he and the guitar work off the percussion well. Friesen is a master bass player who crossed stages I ran in the late 70's. He solos with precision, clear individual notes with extended runs in clusters. The piano begins to provide light counter touches. Friesen's high-energy solo works off the drums and has some rapid note and strum techniques. The drums come on for trades and then they take it out.

"Elf Song" has a back beat Latin feel which Heldman's piano chord accents. Heldman builds with Corea-like lyrical riffs, lots of fluid feel to this. Guitar, drum and bass with the guitar work the low end. Heldman builds to a cacophony of sound and explosion. The bass is heavy and pushes the pulse. The Elfs have gone crazy. "Early Christmas/Caroline" has Heldman on flute and Friesen's bowed bass, always a special thing to hear with his control and tone. There is very light percussion. The special drum effects (think special percussion like Dean Tsapralis) brings unique sound effects and rhythmic touches. Heldman's piano takes a two-minute solo in a more classical vein with some Friesen bowed bass again. This is all extraordinary work that extends and focuses on the beautiful.

"Sickle" is a fifteen and a half minute cut. This has lyrical standard piano with a lovely ballad feel. The bass is laid back, and the lyrical effects brighten the lines. A bit of bossa relaxes and swings into a guitar solo. Lots of time is given to develop themes and interplay. Bass solo is bowed, and some of the licks and rhythmic punch would take you to Slam Stewart's 40's bass work. The piano builds melodically, is elevated, and has kind of a "Summertime" line to it. "Heather's Tune" flows with the bass on a ballad-like warmth. The super long bass solo displays Friesen's talent of over forty years ago, and what most wouldn't give for those chops. First disc last cut has percussion of Pimentel and Hledman's flute, focused tight, and delightful with the drums carrying it. Second CD opens with "Bossa Nova No 1/Song for Kim," penned by Friesen. The bossa rhythmic start gives way to a guitar solo taking over for three minutes in a well-developed and executed solo that is always in synch with the other players. Friesen is on piano now playing a bit more chord work to begin with. His color works, and Heldman, now on bass, has a more slapping pulse, and his line development has more holes and driving bass clusters. The solo space here is great with thirteen and a half minutes to work on lines of improv. As the song develops, the piano gets edgy and a bit avant in places. There are places here they work almost classically. "Three Directions," the only other Friesen tune, has a modern comp bass line with the Friesen piano light. The bass is pumping by Heldman, going for hard pulse, and Friesen now explores a more quiet and tentative high end. They move the song into straight ahead hard swing jazz. The bass is buzzing and drilling, and the solos are rapid fire. The percussion solo and lines are very good and we get some bowed bass. It's back to the head and out.

Creative work and a different slant on the music is because of instrument change and writing change. The short "Llahngaelhyn" is the name of the Eastlake coffeehouse that Heldman had and that he and Friesen used to play in Seattle. The CD release party was held there. There are some classical like piano chords, bowed Friesen bass, and some unique dissonant sounds. Lovely. "44 Bar Tune" is a rip-roaring thirteen and a half minute romp with hard swinging modern jazz as the bass and those jazz/blues over-tones. Electric piano of Heldman and snappy percussion move this work. Wall punching sound and movement as this truck drives down the jazz lane. About a third of the way into the song, the guitar of Lipuma raises the roof with very rapid moves. It is amazing to me that Friesen can keep the acoustic bass power and drive at such an intensity for this entire piece. Of course, he was forty years younger then. They deliver a modern vamp, then go straight ahead with these great drum shots by Pimentel. Amazing flaming work. "Song for Julia" is for Heldman's wife, who did the painting on the cover for this recording. Tune is done on a standard non-electronic piano and is a dancing ballad. With bass propelling the piano and the bass supporting the chrods push, then it releases. A lovely piano and bass duet. The final cut is "Solo Pianos" with classical and percussive new age of the day pulse. I don't know if this was an overdub or if Friesen joined Heldman, but there are way too many notes for one keyboard. The work develops in intensity and moves to the outside edge of jazz. There are great cross lines of the piano lines and listeners are torn between competing lines and emphasis. Lots of swirling exploration in the bold and interesting music. Wonderful historical presentation.

Big kudos to Origin and John Bishop for releasing this; to the family for encouraging it; and to Friesen for going through hours of tapes and production time to select this set of tunes. Music really stands the test of forty years. Packaging is a six-panel double fold with insert for each CD. Most of the copy is easy to read, titles and times are on back cover, but only titles on CD. Binding printing is bold and clear for easy shelf retrieval. Good story lines and background written by Friesen. There is not a lot of money to be made in projects like this, but they are so important to our history in this case of both Seattle and Portland music scenes. Congrats all around.





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    8649 Island Drive South
    Seattle, WA 98118
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