Music News

Calm Together

When many listeners hear the term "new-age," they immediately conjure up images of nuts-and-twigs folks hanging out in the wilderness playing nature-inspired ditties. Others think of the Windham Hill label, whose acts specialize in calming, atmospheric whooshes. But the description often turns out to be a misnomer. Promotional material for the current tour of flutist Paul Horn and bassist David Friesen, for instance, dubs the duo with this overused moniker. Friesen, for one, takes exception to the buzz-word description.

In a recent telephone interview from his home in Portland, Oregon, he says he thinks his music contains more substance than the bathtub-deep harmonies of new-age. "My music with Paul," he says quietly, "is peaceful and more tranquil. It doesn't have the same intense energy, like bebop, but it's very creative and spontaneous. The people at Windham Hill come from a folk and classical tradition, and we come from a jazz tradition. [Our music] has more sophisticated harmonies, altered scales and improvisation. Paul likes to call it `world music,' and the music does encompass things from Africa, India, and America. It's a fusion of many different ethnic cultures."

Working with these assorted styles and a variety of musicians has helped mold and shape Friesen's flexibility. Keeping rhythm for more than 25 years, Friesen's played with the likes of Stan Getz, Joe Henderson, and Ted Curson.

To see the bass player in concert is to observe a versatile musician at work, communicating the creative intellect at its most personal essence. A recent performance at Scottsdale's Jazz Bird Studio found Friesen in another duo setting, (this time with German guitarist Uwe Kropinski). The two blazed through hard-propelling sets, tempering their energy at times with quietly intense ballads. Friesen meticulously worked, kneaded and smoothed his notes and phrases to burnished tonalities that hung suspended in the air long after the deep stringed sounds faded. The tunes swung and sprung from soul-felt emotions, mixing a jazz base with gentle melodic lyricism.

Ask the bass player to elaborate on his style, and he demurs an in-depth analysis of his art. Instead, Friesen insists that his music is a product of divine inspiration. "The totality of playing and listening to music is the spirit and the substance of music. The Lord uses my notes to the fullest. I'm just a medium for Him."

Friesen's philosophy extends to improvisation. "When the creative process is at its peak, the music leads you," he explains. "It becomes a real adventure, and I try to [adopt] a hands-off attitude as much as possible. Sometimes I don't even know what my left or right hand is doing. If you start thinking about what you're going to play, the feeling is lost. When Paul and I play a duo setting together, for example, there is no set leader. Sometimes he leads, sometimes I lead. And sometimes we both follow--listening to the music lead us."

The bassist even approaches composing from a mystical angle. "When I compose, there's no set formula at all," he says. "Sometimes the tune comes together in ten minutes, sometimes it takes longer. In performance, the skeletal part of the song may develop, but not the whole. But I always try to shape the song so it has balance rhythmically and melodically."

Friesen laments that today's electronics has tipped the scales toward the impersonal side, and he says that synthetic effects can often overshadow the music at hand. "A lot of times people put frivolity into their music and miss the substance," he points out. "I use electronics, too, but use them as discreetly as I can, so that the heart is not hidden. As musicians, we're supposed to share something with encouragement and hope. That's why artists are artists. We want to make [the music] appealing, but make it rewarding and long-lasting.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Sheri Shembab