Joe Friedman: Cup O’ Joe – Jazz Guitar Life CD Review

I’m always amazed at how many young and talented Jazz Guitarists there are keeping the flame brightly lit, and of course, grateful for them. Case in point is St. Louis’ own resident Guitar slinger Joe Friedman. If his name is unfamiliar to you, ya gotta do yourself a favor and check him out, and I don’t say that lightly. His debut CD Cup O’ Joe is a ten tune blowing session that finds all concerned in extremely fine form. From stalwart standards like “My Romance”, “Stairway To The Stars” and “Round Midnight/Battle Hymn of the Republic” to the beautiful original “A Darker Shade Of Rose” and the smokin’ yet breezy title track, another Friedman original, this CD is as strong a debut as I’ve ever heard.

Of special note, at least for me, is the inclusion of “Pure Imagination” from the Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory soundtrack. As a child I had quite a fondness for this particular tune so I was more than pleasantly surprised when Cup O’ Joe kicked off the CD with that song. Friedman also did a great job arranging the tune for this session, earning him more points in my book…:)

Stylistically, Friedman is a cross between George Benson and Russell Malone, sticking close to the bluesier side of things rather than a more direct Bop oriented approach. His tone and playing remind me at times of Benson’s CTI period and his slick vibrato would make Malone give a thumb’s up! In fact, Friedman tackles the early up-tempo Benson burner “Myna Bird Blues” with lots of fast fingered runs and blues tinged double stops*. A definite showcase piece with a sly thank you to George I’m sure! Monk’s “Bolivar Blues” is another fine example of Friedman bluesy-jazz playing, as is the seriously syncopated and up-tempo Horace Silver tune “Blowin’ The Blues Away”, where Friedman and company live up to the title’s name, taking no prisoners. A great way to finish off a CD leaving the listener wanting more!

Now, as wonderful as the above mentioned tunes are, I do have two favorites that I feel really need to be mentioned, let alone, heard: The Isley Brothers “Who’s That Lady” and Friedman’s acoustic version of Monk’s “Round Midnight”.

“Who’s That Lady”, is a tour-de-force showcase featuring a great groove and stellar solos from Friedman and pianist George Colligan. Friedman, who also arranged the tune, pulls out all the stops as he blazes through the changes with fiery lines alongside a blues drenched chaser that once again, is reminiscent of GB’s early days. A great tune that should have you tapping your foot from the first note to the last.

Following this tune is Friedman’s acoustic take of the Monk standard “Round Midnight”. Played as a solo piece on a sweet sounding acoustic steel string, Friedman delves into a variety of solo finger-style devices such as contrapuntal voices blending together, contrary motion, open string resonance and moody chord voicings alongside bluesy single note melodies. Add to that the insertion of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and you have a rendition of a Monk classic that is as fresh as it is individualistically unique!

And speaking of individualistically unique, the supportive players on this session are some of the finest players on the scene today. Pianist George Colligan, Bassist Peter Washington, Drummer Neal Smith and percussionist Renato Thoms all lend their prodigious talents to Friedman’s energy and commitment to improvised music, while maintaining their own voice throughout the session. A great group indeed and one that I hope appears on the next CD.

Actually, that begs the question; will there be a next CD? One can only hope. With Friedman’s huge talent for composing, arranging and of course, guitar playing, I can only imagine that Friedman’s star will indeed shine bright for years to come. And that is just fine with me!

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