In the world of introspective, feeling, and sensitive pianists you cannot find two stronger jazz pianists than Brad Mehldau and Jurgen Friedrich. Each of them has crafted a unique style that, no matter the context and no matter who they work with, the surrounding musicians always change their playing to match these young immensely talented musicians.
Friedrich’s background includes time performing solo piano concerts, working with his acoustic trio featured here, time spent playing electronically with his band Bits And Pieces, composing for large ensembles, and working in various projects as a sideman including the incredible Summerflood with Kenny Wheeler. Among Friedrich’s many awards include the 1998 and 2002 Julius Hemphill Composition Award and the 1997 Gil Evans Award. Friedrich has worked with artists like David Liebman, Céline Rudolph, Nils Wogram, and the Cologne Contemporary Jazz Orchestra, and has studied jazz piano and composition with John Taylor and Bill Dobbins. Since 2006 Friedrich has taught composition at the Musikhochschule Mannheim.
Utilizing the long time rhythm section of bassist John Hebert and drummer Tony Moreno, the trio featured here doesn’t dance or stroll through the 11 compositions as much as lightly tiptoe. On Thelonious Monk’s "Round Midnight" they choose an out of time framework within which to delicately balance their ensemble phrases. The result is a series of expertly crafted and poignantly produced statements that instead of channeling Monk like so many other artists do so incredibly poorly, instead reflect him into a prism of similarly shaded colors that surround and intensify the soul of Monk’s creative compositional conceptions. Frankly, it’s about time someone looked into Monk’s heart and found the essence of his spirit rather than just tried to prove their own soloistic and harmonic egotism. One listen and you’ll forever ponder on Monk differently.
Even on short thematic statements, such as the Friedrich and Moreno "Wayward," the artists prove themselves to not just be capable of performing small statements that belie they intricateness, but also to find a sound unique to their abstract soundscapes; one part Bill Evans mixed with one part Myra Melford plus three parts individualism, this trio is one of the most dangerously empathetic ensembles working today.Hebert’s playing is absolutely spectacular throughout. As neither he nor Friedrich are responsible for outlining harmonic structures, Hebert is free to play inside of those structures, elucidating a chord here or a return to tonic there just by his mere use of hints or allusions. Handled no better than on "Drift" and "I Am Missing Her," Friedrich is able to take those open choices and weave similarly tasteful dalliances that imply but do not stifle the underpinning of tonality so strongly fashioned throughout the disc.
Moreno’s drumset work is, at most times, more about color and how he reflects on the proceedings instead of anything as banal as time keeping. On "Samarkand" Moreno’s rolling lower tom rolls and lightly driving cymbal pushes give meaning to both Hebert’s extended harmonic chordal choices and Friedrich’s time-out-of-mind solo. There are few better young up-and-coming drummers, in the sensitive mold akin to Paul Motion, than Moreno. Overall, a truly great recording.