Daniel Freedman – Bamako By Bus (2012)

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photos courtesy of All About Jazz

This is a drummer’s record but not a record about drum solos. Musically, however, it’s about a lot of other things, like rhumba, West African, reggae, Moroccan, Afro-Cuban, funk-fusion and, finally jazz. Music that percussion master Daniel Freedman finds all in the same place only at one place in the world: New York City.

Originally to be titled NY Nation, Bamako By Bus is to become Freedman’s second album, and this drummer to Youssou N’Dour, Tom Harrell and Sting acts as the chief chef for this world stew, stirring the pot over simmering aboriginal grooves. And like all great chefs, he uses only the best ingredients. Performing with him throughout the record are Jason Lindner on keys, Avishai Cohen (the trumpet player, not the bass dude), and maverick R&B artist Me’shell Ndegeocello on bass. Lionel Loueke contributes his one of a kind Beninian jazz guitar style on about half the cuts.

The ethnic fusion is sprinkled throughout, and with guys like Loueke, Cuban music master Abraham Rodriguez, ney (Middle Eastern flute) specialist Joshua Levitt and percussionist Pedrito Martinez in the studio, these songs can’t help to feel as if they were conceived and played right in those faraway lands, not the Big Apple. Songs like “Elegba Wa”, “All Brothers” and “Bamako By Bus,” all with Loueke’s vocals sometimes sung in native tongue, feature world class percussion mated to West African chord progressions and jazzy panache. The Rodriguez feature “Rumba Pa’NYC” is, despite its title, would also be right at home on the streets of old Havana. “Darfur/Oasis” (Youtube below) is a spectral Saharan groove that mesmerizes and is highlighted by Levitt’s flute.

A few of the tracks are more metropolitan, and Freedman along with his help do these tunes just as well as the ethnically inclined ones. The slow, fusion funk of “Deep Brooklyn” is bolstered by Ndegeocello’s puckish bass line and Cohen’s sassy horn. The smoky ballad “Alona” is a showcase for guest Mark Turner’s sultry and thoughtful sax, but also credit Freedman’s ability to craft a quality, ethereal melody. “Saaba”‘s uptempo pace provides the catalyst for some charged improvising by both Cohen and Turner.

There’s been a lot of jazzmen who set out to make a diverse record, and while I always celebrate musical diversity, having that quality doesn’t mean the record is well made or hangs together well. Freedman, on the other hand, accomplishes both. Call it jazz fusion, ethnic fusion, Cuban, African or whatever you want, Bamako By Bus succeeds in what Freedman was trying to accomplish: to colorfully and artistically flesh out the musical melting pot he hears in NYC.

Bamako By Bus goes on sale April 24 by Anzic Records. Visit Daniel Freedman’s website.

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