The liner notes to Beautiful Friendship, last June’s initial release by the Tom Dempsey/Tim Ferguson Quartet featuring Joel Frahm and Eliot Zigmund, make an interesting point about the effect of human relationships on musical collaboration. On the one hand, musicians who have played together for long periods of time have often developed a sensitive feel for each other, what they call a “certain telepathy” that not only makes them comfortable with each other, but, like an old married couple, has them finishing each other’s musical sentences. On the other hand, working with new musicians with new perspectives can often foster exciting new ideas that spark creativity and push them beyond their comfort zone.
There is no denying there is truth in both points of view. One thinks, for example, of the great musical ensembles like The Modern Jazz Quartet or The Dave Brubeck Quartet and the value of familiarity is clear. Then one thinks of a bunch of musicians getting together for an impromptu jam session and creating one of a kind magical moments and the value of moving outside your comfort zone is just as clear. Why not then think in terms of the best of both worlds—why not put together an ensemble of musicians who have known and played with each other for years, but never played as a unit in this particular combination?
Why not, indeed. The Tom Dempsey/Tim Ferguson Quartet is just such a combination, and their mellow straight-ahead musical collaboration on the 10 tunes of Beautiful Friendship amply justifies the group’s creation. Guitarist Dempsey and bassist Ferguson had played together for years. They had known saxophonist Frahm and drummer Zigmund, but Zigmund and Frahm had never met. “We were able,” they tell us in the liner notes, “to enjoy the confidence that comes from playing with people you know and trust, while still having that excitement of a new relationship.”
Their music is an eclectic mix of original pieces and standard tunes. Among the original compositions, Ferguson’s “Cakewalk” is a sweet swinging romp and his “Last Summer,” a haunting melody. Both Dempsey and Frahm do some elegant work on the latter. Dempsey’s “Ted’s Groove” is another swinger with some fine, groovy solo work. “It’s True” is credited to all four of the musicians: “One tune,” they tell us, “was actually collaboratively composed on the date.” Illustrating the infusion of new ideas, the tune moves the quartet into some more adventurous territory.
Among the standard tunes, the classic “Autumn in New York” and Thelonius Monk’s “Coming On the Hudson” which ends the album on a high note both stand out. This last opens with an evocative thematic statement on the solo guitar, before the rest of the ensemble picks up on it. Thad Jones “50-21,” Randy Weston’s “Little Niles,” and the title song round out an album that is a very satisfying illustration of the value of adding some new spice to a familiar stew.