Daniel Freedman: Imagine That

Dan Bilawsky By

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Few can match drummer Daniel Freedman when it comes to pan-stylistic jazz presentations that cut across cultural lines. This lifelong New Yorker has found a way to bridge sonic worlds, erase boundary lines, and merge various musical languages in masterful fashion in his own work and in support of others. It's no wonder why the best of the best—the one and only Sting, West African superstar Angelique Kidjo, and Israeli clarinet queen Anat Cohen, to mention three—have called on Freedman. He isn't nearly as well-known as he should be at this point, due in no small part to the fact that his sideman duties take up much of his time, but with each successive release under his own name he furthers his reputation as one of the most open-minded drummer-leaders on record.

Imagine That, Freedman's third album, is a logical next step given what appeared on its predecessor—Bamako By Bus (Anzic Records, 2012). It's a global feast for the senses built by one of the most intriguing multicultural units assembled in recent times. What emerges, with Brooklynite Jason Lindner manning the keys, Benin-born sensation Lionel Loueke on guitar, Israeli Omer Avital holding things down on bass, and Brazilian percussionist Gilmar Gomes adding rhythmic spice to the mix, is a beyond-category hybridized form of music. Pan-African presentations, Carnatic ideals, Middle Eastern sounds, blues-tinged suggestions, modern jazz tides, and more all come into the picture at one time or another. The grooves are deep, the harmonies are intriguing, and the end result is something that's both smart and stirring.

This band gets down on the dance floor right out of the gate with Lindner's "Determined Soul," a piece with pseudo-Afrobeat undercurrents and Indian inflections. It's the first of many rhythmically rousing numbers on the bill, and each one relies on different source material and stylized directions. There's Freedman's "Baby Aya," a cradle song that morphs into a celebration and features Loueke and Kidjo, making her lone guest appearance, on vocals; "Big In Yemen," built on a "Yemeni/Bahia hybrid" groove cooked up by Freedman and Gomes; Loueke's "Mindaho," a hypnotic, slow-building roamer that features some of the guitarist's most entrancing playing on record; and the Gnawa-influenced "The Sisters Dance," uplifted by inspired contributions from Gomes and some fiery, barbed guitar work from Loueke.

In other places, Freedman and company prove to be just as engaging without putting such a premium on rhythmic dialogue. Radiohead's "Codex," for example, moves from a cinematic space to a pure rock environment. Then there's "Love Takes Time," an undiluted soul experience, and "Eastern Elegy," a universal threnody of a sort that tugs at the heartstrings and features some incredibly moving bass work from Avital. With the eight numbers presented here, Daniel Freedman manages to prove that seemingly dissimilar musics, much like people, can prove to be completely compatible. Imagine that.

Track Listing: Determined Soul; Baby Aya; Big In Yemen; Codex; Mindaho; Love Takes Time; Eastern Elegy; The Sisters Dance.

Personnel: Lionel Loueke: guitar, vocals; Jason Lindner: piano, keyboards; Omer Avital: bass, oud (3); Gilmar Gomes: percussion; Daniel Freedman: drums; Angélique Kidjo: vocals (2).

Title: Imagine That | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Anzic Records


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