By Ed Enright | Published February 2024
Lushly orchestrated by Kyle Gordon for a 33-piece chamber orchestra, this captivating 12-part masterwork by David Friesen was originally conceived for the National Academic Symphonic Band of Ukraine, which was featured on the internationally acclaimed bassist/pianist/composer’s 2020 album Testimony (Origin), an exploration and celebration of his Ukrainian heritage. Friesen, known for a work ethic that has spawned more than 80 albums as a leader or co-leader, began writing material for This Light Has No Darkness, Vol. 1 with a premiere set for a performance at Kiev’s Philharmonic Hall in May 2022. When that date became an impossibility due to the dangers posed by Russia’s military incursion into the country, Gordon instead sculpted an orchestra of his own in his Los Angeles studio using a superbly created sample library (Note Performer) and relying heavily on his producer’s ear for spaciousness and dramatic grandeur acquired through extensive experience working on film and TV soundtracks. The interactions of the virtual chamber group with the duo of Friesen (on his Austrian-made Hemage hybrid bass) and pianist Paul Lees, along with percussionists Charlie Doggett and Rob Moore, reveal an unrelenting, ever-unfolding flow that runs through the entire program as melodies get passed from player to player, section to section, and support roles change frequently yet fluidly. Covering a vast range of musical dynamics and distinguished by intimate exchanges between virtuosos Lees and Friesen (with his signature bends, sparkling harmonics and well-placed double-stops), the suite unfolds as a musical manifestation of the spiritual light that offers forgiveness, hope and purpose. The closing piece, the hymn-like “Return To The Father,” was written for Friesen’s wife of 58 years, Kim who passed away from COVID-19 during a tragic week in 2021 that included the invasion of Ukraine. Information about a live premiere of This Light Has No Darkness is still forthcoming, as the octogenarian Friesen hopes to perform the work live in the U.S. and, eventually, back East in his ancestral homeland — as originally conceived. Let’s hope a Volume 2 is in Friesen’s foreseeable future.