To say that jazz bassist/composer Rob Fried thinks outside the box, and that his music is complex, would be enormous understatements. To say that his songs on the current album Wind Song leave you feeling relaxed and immersed in their many moods would be a truer statement. Unlike so many sophisticated writers whose music is wonderful but sometimes leave the listener mentally and emotionally exhausted, Fried seems to have a knack for creating music, that despite pushing the envelope, provides for listening enjoyment. He, in part, credits the instincts of the many, talented musicians who appear on the CD Wind Song.
During my conversation with Fried, he spoke about his ambitious multi CD project, Wind Song, being the first in the collection. With Wind Song, as the title implies, Fried set out to write charts that would leave the listener with a musical representation of wind. His future projects will recreate various elements of the earth such as earth, fire, water, metal and wood, through his charts. He says, "Imagine in your mind four circles or rings and each one of them represents a style of music. One of them represents jazz, another rhythm and blues, one world music-the music of Brazil, Cuba and Africa, and the final one represents ambient or new age music. All the circles intersect. The area where they intersect is where I dwell."
Fried will be the first to tell you that he does not set out just to create nice songs. He adopts a more metaphysical approach to music, asking himself and his fellow musicians how they collectively can create the sound of wind, what inflections in their music will invite thoughts of wood, fire, or the other elements. He currently is working on a new CD titled Water Rhapsody on which a marimba is used to replicate the sound of water droplets. At first blush, the aforementioned description of Fried’s music probably invokes angst among jazz musicians who adhere to more traditional methods of composition, however, after listening to just a few of the tracks from Wind Song, one is compelled to admit that Fried has created some of the more beautiful music that you are likely to hear.
Fried acknowledges that his success is due in large part to his many musical influences, "I am very drawn to world music. I enjoy African 6/8 time, (in addition to) salsa and samba music from Brazil. I grew up listening to rhythm and blues and it is part of my language. Jazz is part of my language as well, with a more sophisticated approach to theory, harmony and chord structure." At the other end of the musical charts, Fried admits to musical influences from his youth when he was a fan of The Allman Brothers, Stevie Wonder and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.
To create a common thread of space and airiness that unites the songs for Wind Song, Fried says he used the flute (Ali Ryerson) and Randy Brecker’s trumpet. He also invoked the use of reverb and bells to contribute to the sense of openness.
Although he started playing guitar when he was eight years old, Fried switched to the upright bass at sixteen to fill a void in the group in which he played. Applying some theory he had acquired from his guitar lessons, Fried was more or less self-taught on his new instrument until he attended a concert that would forever impact the direction of his music. Fried recalls that day, "In the early nineties, I happened to be at a concert and I heard New York bassist Tony Cimorosi. After the concert, I contacted him and said, ‘Whatever you are doing, I want to learn more about it.’ He had a wonderful solo voice and a wonderful groove. I began eight years of intensive, almost conservatory like study with him. We went through all the different world beat grooves including, calypso, mambo, cha-cha, (as well as) Brazilian grooves like samba, frevo and bossa nova. (I also) learned the African grooves, American swing and the blues."
Fried says, "Latin music became a passion for me. I love to dance to Latin music and I love the feel of it."
Fried’s passion for emotive music that causes people to get up and want to move to the rhythm comes through in songs such as the opening track "Time Piece," which contains a rock line, which he now imitates for me, and explains that he has expressed in straight eighth notes. "Rooster Blues," the third track, named for his daughter Rachel (often referred to as ‘Rooster’), has what Fried describes as a Steely Dan rock feel to it.
"When I see how people respond as I play rock and funk, it is a powerful thing. When people get up to dance, people are smiling and then euphoria happens. It is almost like the audience becomes another member of the band. You try to feel what they are feeling and then take it higher. That is definitely a big part of the joy (of being a musician) and especially as a bass player," says Fried.
With accomplished musicians such as Randy Brecker (flugelhorn/trumpet), Chris Parker (drums), Ali Ryerson (flute), guitarist Phil Hamilton, percussionist Emedin Rivera, violinist Jean Wriedt and Nick Bariluk (also associate producer) and Rob Aries who shared keyboard duties, it was easy for Fried to completely commit to the studio sessions that he feels works best with his music. "I tend to write in forms that can be charted, (so on one hand) they are structured, but they also allow for spontaneity. When rehearsing the music prior to recording, I openly invited the other musicians to give their insight and input. Many of the changes, intros, outros, adding time, adding a 2/4 bar to create open space were suggestions that Chris Parker, Nick Bariluk and the whole group of characters brought to the CD. I come with an agenda, but I am like a leader who realizes that these musicians have creativity and spontaneity. On another level, when I compose, I often have 6/8 bars that comprise an open section. That allows someone like Randy to go into what they are feeling at the moment," Fried explains.
As much as Wind Song is Rob Fried’s creation, he is the first to acknowledge the contributions of the talented musicians who contributed to the CD. He observes, "Randy (Brecker) plays with such spontaneity that I had the sense his music would be timeless. You can listen to it over and over again," and about Phil Hamilton he notes, "On my CD, he plays nylon, he plays flamenco style and he plays electric guitar using a wawa pedal. It is rare to find someone who can step into so many different styles and genres at that high a level."
Just as he has shared his music openly with his fellow musicians, Fried has ensured that his family has strong ties to the Wind Song record. In addition to "Rooster Blues," three other songs are named for family members, "Sarah’s Band" (daughter), "Extremily" (daughter Emily), and "Samba Diane" (his wife Diane).
Jazz purists may be reading this article with their noses up in the air, but Fried contends that this may be one of the new directions for jazz music in the twenty-first century. Regardless of the position that you adopt, and all genre labeling aside, Rob Fried’s Wind Song, stands as an excellent collection of songs.