REVIEW: Joe Friedman – Cup O’ Joe

I guess it was inevitable. When you consider that I drink countless cups of coffee during the day, and always have a mug going while working on reviews, sooner or later the two processes would align themselves in some way. Cup O’ Joe, a new album from jazz guitarist Joe Friedman, fills the bill — but even more importantly, it percolates up a rich and robust brew of musical pleasure.

OK, OK, enough with the silly coffee talk — but I do have to add one thing. When I began to read the album notes insert, I noticed my cup needed refilling so I put the insert face down on the desk. When I returned, I started to set down my cup but did a double-take, because printed on the back of the insert was a fake coffee-cup stain. Of course, I’m waaay too smart to be fooled by something like that, but for a second there…

But let’s talk about the music, and of course the musician. Joe Friedman is relatively new to the recording scene – at least as a leader – but his background includes a fine musical education and a decade of playing with some well-known stars. He’s appeared in a number of clubs and on Broadway, has toured with Eartha Kitt, played with Eddie Daniels and others, but is probably most proud of his service with George Benson, and considers him a major influence.

For his debut album, Friedman didn’t use unknowns to support his own talents on both acoustic and electric guitar. Instead, he enlisted the aid of some really fine, established musicians, including Peter Washington on bass, pianist George Colligan, drummer Neal Smith, and Renato Thoms on percussion.

The album is filled with a nice mix that includes everything from old standards to newer tunes, and features a couple written by Friedman himself. Those include the title tune, with Friedman’s nimble guitar nicely matched up with a Latin beat from the percussionist, and “A Darker Shade of Rose,” which gives us a taste of Friedman’s blues side. Nice.

Among the older songs were a couple of Monk classics; “Bolivar Blues,” featuring some very nice interplay between Friedman and Colligan, and “Round Midnight,” a tune that’s been recorded by almost every jazz musician. However, Friedman gives us something new when he turns it into a virtuoso solo performance that includes a segue into “Battle Hymn Of Republic.” He also didn’t forget his musical idol Benson, giving a solid effort on “Myna Bird Blues,” (which is also the tune chosen for the bonus video track).

I very much enjoyed the traditional standards; “My Romance,” and “Stairway To The Stars,” both of which show a softly melodic side to the talented guitarist, but it was another piece that I felt was the the best on the album. It’s the first cut, “Pure Imagination,” an intriguing arrangement of the theme from Willie Wonka.

A nice debut album from a talented jazz guitarist.

1 Pure Imagination
2 Bolivar Blues
3 A Darker Shade of Rose
4 Cup O’ Joe
5 My Romance
6 Who’s That Lady
7 ‘Round Midnight/Battle Hymn of the Republic
8 Myna Bird Blues
9 Stairway to the Stars
10 Blowin’ the Blues Away
11 Myna Bird Blues (video)

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