David Friedman – “Winter Love, April Joy” (1975)

Vibraphonists and marimba players David Friedman (b. 1944) and Dave Samuels (1948-2019) first combined forces in 1974, as “The Mallet Duo.” The two practiced, performed and recorded together – despite their incredibly differing professional trajectories – as “Double Image,” or under their own names, for nearly a half century thereafter.

Friedman, a percussion major at Julliard, first broke through in the late sixties with folk rocker Tim Buckley. But his first notable gig was with jazz flautist Hubert Laws (1971-74). The vibraphonist factored superbly on Laws’ best-known CTI albums, including the classics Afro-Classic (1971) and The Rite of Spring (1972). Friedman also appeared on such CTI records by Chet Baker, George Benson, Hank Crawford, Bob James, Idris Muhammad, Don Sebesky, Stanley Turrentine and Grover Washington, Jr.

The vibraphonist has even appeared on pop albums by Aretha Franklin, Billy Joel, Roberta Flack, The Four Tops, Chic and several worthy records by Yoko Ono. Friedman has also factored beautifully on such great discs as Horacee Arnold’s Tribe (1973), Earl Klugh’s Late Night Guitar (1980), John Clark’s Faces (1981) and Chet Baker’s ethereal Peace (1982).

Dave Samuels, who studied vibraphone and marimba at Boston University and then at Berklee College of Music (where he taught from 1972 to 1974), remains best known as a member of the hit-making group Spyro Gyra (1977 to 1994) and, later, as co-founder of The Caribbean Jazz Project, with saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera and steel drummer Andy Narell.

Like Friedman, Samuels, too, had one of his earliest recording opportunities on the CTI label: for the Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan Carnegie Hall Concert records (both 1975)1. It’s even possible Friedman had something to do with that. Samuels would later contribute beautifully to the Gerry Mulligan records Idol Gossip (1976) and Dragonfly (1995).

Winter Love, April Joy was recorded during March and April 1975 in New York City and issued later that year by the Japanese East Wind label – but only in Japan. The record was licensed by Inner City Records for distribution in the United States, but the album was not released until early 19792. The disc has had two previous Japan-only CD releases in 2002 and 2015 but makes a new appearance on CD as part of Universal Music’s massive and impressive East Wind Masters Collection 1000 series.

It is not only the first album to appear under Friedman’s own name, Winter Love, April Joy is also the first of many recorded accounts of Friedman and Samuel’s multi-decades legacy. And it remains one of their finest recordings together.

Dave Samuels (left) and David Friedman (right), circa the 70s

Friedman and Samuels seem especially well suited to one another. They are remarkably attuned to each other’s sensibilities – even on this, the earliest of their recordings – managing both, for lack of a better phrase, the “horn lines” and the rhythm section.

Friedman – to these ears, the most distinctive of the two – brings out the steel of the vibes and the wood of the marimba in a way that feels perfectly organic, even “acoustic” (he never seems to rely on the easy and crowd-pleasing sustain that tends to give both instruments a bell-like sound). His notes have logic and sensitivity.

Samuels, who has a melodic story-telling quality to his playing, transcends his lines into a relatable otherness – as though those stories were fairy tales. It finds the glint off the steel and the sheen to the wood, like the reflection of a glowing lamp. His notes have feeling and vigor.

For the most part, Winter Love, April Joy is a duo affair: Friedman plays the vibraphone on all tracks but “Nyack” (where he plays marimba) while Samuels plays marimba on most tracks except “Nyack,” where he plays vibraphone, and “Brite Piece,” where he plays the unusual and interesting bass marimba. Mallets aforethought, indeed.

Hubert Laws is a featured guest on both flute and piccolo on “April Joy,” while Harvie Swartz (now Harvie S, who was at the time a member of Friedman’s working quartet) is added on bass for the tracks “Truce,” “Untitled” and “Island.”

“Nyack” – from a record released in 1996.

Friedman’s “Nyack” is the closest thing the duo had to a signature song. Presumably named for the charming village along the Hudson River in New York, “Nyack” is less a musical exercise than a melodic stroll – seemingly more autumnal than winter in its colors – for the two mallet players. Both are playing with four mallets (two in each hand), so it feels as though you’re hearing a full band rather than just two musicians. Friedman’s solo here is particularly compelling.

Years later, when Samuels and Friedman were inducted in the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame, Friedman was quoted as saying, “We had—and still have—a kind of mental telepathy. When I listen to my first solo record…there’s a tune where we play a free improvisation, and at one point, we play the exact same run at the same time. I still get goosebumps.”

This listener is pretty certain Friedman was talking about this particular recording of “Nyack”: it gives me goosebumps, too. Friedman and Samuels would later reprise “Nyack” on their disc Dialogues (1985) and, later, on a compilation called Jazz/Minimal/Avantgarde (1996).

Bassist Harvie Swartz enters the program for “Truce,” the sort of musical conflict-resolution piece that Joe Chambers used to write for Bobby Hutcherson. Swartz is a subtle addition here, but he brings a welcome feeling of jazz to the proceedings. “Truce” was reprised for the next Friedman/Samuels meeting on the eponymous Double Image debut (1977) and resurrected again on vibraphonist Joe Locke’s Inner Space (1996 – also with Swartz).

Dave Liebman’s “Brite Piece” first appeared on Elvin Jones’ 1972 album Merry Go Round. Here, the leaders recast the piece as though it was by Chick Corea and Gary Burton (Corea, incidentally, appears on Merry Go Round but not on that particular track). It is a particularly joyous pax de deux for these mallet masters.

Guitarist Pat Metheny, who was a student at Berklee while Samuels was a teacher there, contributes the awkwardly-titled “Exercise #5 – April Joy” (later as “April Joy”). Here, the duo welcomes Friedman’s former boss, Hubert Laws, who states the melody on piccolo while soloing in his characteristically lithe and lovely manner on flute (with a wee bit more sadness than joy). Again, Friedman contributes a particularly notable solo. Metheny recorded his own take of “April Joy” on the 1978 Pat Metheny Group album.

Tom Pierson’s quirky “Untitled” leads the original record’s second side and brings back Swartz ever so marginally in to the fold. This one traffics in the tensions present in so much film music – the type Phillip Glass would write decades later (or the album Glass wrote for the Brazilian ensemble Uakti in 1999) – but has too much of the veneer of musical exercise to appreciate as jazz.

Pierson, like Friedman, is a Julliard graduate and is probably best known for working on the music of such films as Popeye (1979), Hair (1979) and Manhattan (1980). To hear a more aggressive take on “Untitled,” check out the solo-piano version recorded by the eclectic pianist Kirk Nurock in 1976.

Harvie Swartz’s “Island” is essentially an improvisational duet between Friedman on vibraphone and Swartz, who is positively magisterial on bass. If Harvie S.’s 2017 take on the song with his IN Trio is any indication, the actual melody of “Island” is heard some two minutes in. The take heard here is so much more imaginative and remarkable for the chemistry shared by the vibraphonist and the bassist – who , at turns, strikes the strings as Buster Williams might have at the time.

Friedman started playing classical music before he developed an interest in jazz, so it’s not surprising that he would cover a classical piece here – something he often did in Hubert Laws’ band. What is curious, though, is he improvises on solo vibraphone over the “Sarabande” movement of Bach’s Violin Sonata in B minor, a piece written for violin and harpsichord. (the harpsichord meant to serve, in a jazz sense, as the bass counterpoint to the solo instrument).

A second instrument, like Swartz’s bass, would have been a welcome addition here. As is, “Sarabande” seems to meander a bit more than the other tracks on the disc do. It’s also the album’s longest track: it could have easily been halved.

The set closes with Swartz’s lovely, though little-known “I’ve Touched Your Soul,” a joyous sprite that sort of crosses such ECM standards as Chick Corea’s “Senor Mouse” with Keith Jarrett’s “Country.” The song opens and closes – presumably in a nod to The Beatles – with the vibraphone line backmasked, or recorded backwards. The manipulation, however, gives the endearing melody an oddly appropriate dream-like feel.

Here, Samuels shines particularly well on marimba, offering the kind of lyrical and tender solo he would deliver so memorably on the 1979 Spyro Gyra hit “Morning Dance.” While Swartz himself sits this one out (!), he would record “I’ve Touched Your Soul” around the same time with Barry Miles for the keyboardist’s 1975 album Magic Theater.

“A record of tremendous lyrical and emotional depth,” noted Herb Nolan in his December 2, 1976, profile of the two Davids in DownBeat magazine. The radio tip-sheet Walrus added, “Vibes and marimba lend themselves to impressionistic music because of their atherial tonal qualities. Friedman uses these instruments to generate a veil of sound, rather than a wall of sound. Pleasing.” (April 23, 1979)

Double Image – “Dawn” (1979)

Following Winter Love, April Joy3, Friedman and Samuels began recording as “Double Image.” At first, this grouping was a quartet that issued the records Double Image (Enja/1977) and the marvelous but long out-of-print Dawn4 (ECM/1979). As a duo, Friedman and Samuels issued Dialogues (1985), In Lands I Never Saw (1986), Open Hand (1994), Duotones (1997) and Moment to Moment (2006), but all as “Double Image.”

This was a grouping that flourished in Europe, a place both leaders suggested was much more open to the new sounds they were proffering than their native America: Friedman himself relocated to Germany in the late eighties, where he founded the jazz program at Berlin’s University of the Arts, and has remained there ever since – recording with a great swath of European musicians.

But to this day, Double Image – and the duo that founded it – remain an enigmatic blip on the jazz map here in the United States. Winter Love – April Joy is more than a blip. But it is our loss that we never noticed.

Postscript #1: I wrote an appreciation some years ago called The David Friedman Vibe about this tremendously underrated vibraphonist and marimba player.

Postscript #2: Those who appreciate Winter Love, April Joy – or any of the music David Friedman and Dave Samuels made together – may well enjoy Steve Reich’s superb five-movement Six Marimbas (1986). The piece rescores Reich’s earlier Six Pianos at the suggestion of percussionist and Reich ensemble member James Priess (who was on the faculty of the Manhattan School of Music at the same time as Friedman). While there is no evidence that Friedman, Samuels or Double Image had any influence on Six Marimbas, Reich’s piece perfectly captures exactly what they set out to do a full decade before: Dave Friedman and Dave Samuels: Two Man Percussion Crusade5.

  1. Spyro Gyra keyboard player and arranger Jeremy Wall also worked on such CTI projects as Patti Austin’s Body Language (1980), Ray Barretto’s La Cuna (1981) and the all-star Fuse One project all, oddly, without Spyro Gyra mallet-man Dave Samuels. ↩︎
  2. Several sources set the date of the American release on Inner City as 1978, but the only contemporaneous notices for Winter Love, April Joy that I could find indicated the release date was closer to March 1979. ↩︎
  3. Herb Nolan’s profile of the two vibraphonists in the December 2, 1976, issue of DownBeat indicated that Friedman and Samuel’s (“The duo”) second recording would be Futures Past – a 1977 Friedman-led recording for the Enja label that paired the vibraphonist with pianist Pat Rebillot and added drummer Bruce Ditmas. Samuels, however, was not at all involved in the final product. ↩︎
  4. While Friedman participated in the 1978 ECM production Percussion Profiles – a multi-movement George Gruntz composition nominally led by Jack DeJohnette – it is surprising (and a bit mystifying) that Friedman and/or Double Image never had much more to do with ECM Records. The one exception is Friedman’s very welcome presence on French horn player John Clark’s wonderful quartet record Faces (1981). ↩︎
  5. This is the title of the surprisingly lengthy article that appears in the December 2, 1976, issue of DownBeat magazine that beautifully elaborates why these two mallet men went on their career-length mission. ↩︎

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