The celebrated percussionist and conga maestro Norman Hedman has performed on numerous hit recordings as his diverse resume includes session work with Nancy Wilson, Arthur Blythe, Luther Vandross, Daryl Hall and Earth, Wind & Fire among others. “One Step Closer” represents Mr. Hedman’s second stint as a leader, which includes wonderful support from his band “Tropique”, and special guest, pianist Hilton Ruiz.
The Hedman/ Machlav Chan composition “Gypsy Caravan” sets the pace for Latin induced rhythms yet surfaces with a jazzy feel as the talented soprano saxophonist Talib Kibwe creates dreamlike, multi-colored textures through melodic invention. Percussionist Willie Martinez’ “Shades of Magenta”, features the gifted Latin-Jazz pianist Hilton Ruiz who adds dazzle and excitement over a steady cha-cha beat. Here, Talib Kibwe picks up the alto sax and displays star qualities through gorgeous phrasing, effective use of vibrato and an overall sense of warmth and sparkling tonal color. Hedman’s “Flight of the Spirit” is a good vehicle for vibraphonist A.J Mantas to stretch out as this tune evokes memories of the late Cal Tjader. Here, the recurring theme or melody is pleasantly understated.
Hedman and his rhythmic accomplices are on target as the sense of professionalism and intuitive interplay become obvious from the onset. Flutist Andrienne Wilson penned “I Don’t Know” which is cheerful and loaded with melodic choruses that just reach out and grab you. “I Don’t Know You” also features an intense yet lavishly textured piano solo by Glenn Pearson and invigorating alto sax work from Kibwe.
No frills, no jive. Hedman and “Tropique” sidestep convention by efficiently melding cross-cultural rhythmic structures with unruffled elegance and verve, as the compositions are generally memorable and first rate. A breath of fresh air indeed. *** ½
Norman Hedman; Percussion, Conga: Willie Martinez; Timbales: Glenn Pearson; Piano: Ron Monroe; Bass: Robert Aron; Piano: A.J. Mantas; Vibes: Talib Kibwe; Alto & Soprano Sax: Craig Rivers; Flute: Adrienne Wilson; Flute: Joe Gonzalez; Bongos & Guirro: