KOJI'S OSAKAYA - April 14, 2006
David Friesen, Bass
John Gross, Tenor Sax
Eli Reisman - Guitar
Wanting to get out and hear some good jazz, but being a wee bit lazy, I decided to drop in on some players I had been meaning to hear for a while at Koji's, located in my neighborhood. Dave Friesen has long been one of my favorite bassists, and with tenor John Gross, another favorite, and Eli Reisman on guitar - yet unknown to me - I was looking forward to the evening. Koji Osakaya is located on Barbur Blvd., about a block south of the intersection of Barbur and Capitol Hwy.
There are other Koji's around the Portland area, but this one was chosen to present jazz based on the size of area available around the bar. Even here the setting is very intimate, with seating for maybe 50, and nobody more than 40 feet from the musicians. I met up with a friend and we took seats right in front - the music hadn't started and we wanted to say our hello's to the musicians. Only a few other listeners had ventured out on this Friday evening - I understand Saturday nights are packed.
The musicians sat in a loose triangular configuration so that all three could see each other. Later, they explained that this allows for better communication between the players, and the value of that was easily seen in their performance. Of the first nine tunes, seven were Friesen originals, all lovely pieces, evoking a myriad of images for the listener. Most were light, airy, and there seemed to be little improvising, with all the improvisation written into the tunes. I found myself smiling, a lot.
The first of the two standards was Airegin, a Sonny Rollins piece that featured swift, smooth solos by Reisman and Gross, and I remember thinking, "this is how the tune should really be played" - just beautiful. The second standard was the luscious In A Sentimental Mood, kicking off with an elegant guitar intro, followed with a gorgeous tenor solo, then back to Eli on guitar and back again to John on tenor. John's second solo moved a little farther out, never losing the mood and segued into a soft, melodic bass solo that is really Dave's signature. Everyone came in to wrap up, what I felt to be, about as perfect a performance of the Ellington tune as I've heard.
The final piece of the set was Dave's own Before and After, which conjured up images of a relationship, with a bass solo in the middle representing conversation between the partners. It was a great example of how an artist can paint a musical picture that each listener envisions in his or her own way. This was a very enjoyable set and I was happy, in fact honored to be one of the few present to hear it.
This restaurant's devotion to presenting jazz stems from owner Koji Okuno, a great jazz drummer in Japan whose career was cut short by a bad accident to his hand. Moving to Portland, he opened his first restaurant and now has a small chain, with restaurants in Portland and Seattle. With his dedication to jazz, for the Barbur Blvd. Location, he has brought in a nice Yamaha upright to draw the likes of Dave Frishberg, Randy Porter, Greg Goebel and many more fine pianists. Koji's also offers a stellar Japanese cuisine, with reasonable prices, set in a serene environment, with very capable service - a most pleasant night out. Check out Koji's schedule http://www.koji.com/Specials.htm for more entertainment information.