Daniel Freedman ‘Imagine That’ (Anzic) 4/5

daniel-freedmanIt’s always a pleasure to listen to an album that is a breath of fresh air. “Imagine That” is just that. A multi-cultural sounding mix of jazz, blues and world music, it is infused with eclectic delights and wonderful craftsmanship, from start to finish. New York born drummer Daniel Freedman, brings together a great band of musicians for this recording, featuring Lionel Loueke (from Benin) on guitars and vocals, Jason Lindner (from Brooklyn) on keyboards, Omer Ivital (from Israel) on bass, and Gilmar Gomez (from Brazil) on percussion. There is also a guest appearance by Benin-born vocalist Angelique Kidjo, with whom Freedman has toured the world in her band. A truly international group then, and one in which every person makes an important contribution, all brilliantly pulled together into a cohesive whole by the band-leader. Freedman studied with master drummers Max Roach, Billy Higgins and Vernel Fournier, before travelling to further his studies in West Africa, Cuba and the Middle East. It is this vast understanding of his instrument and the backgrounds of the musical traditions he has learned from that really does shine out from the music he and his band make. There’s such a natural flow to the tunes, at times the listener could be forgiven for thinking that they had all known each other from childhood, such is the strength of the bond that can be heard in their performances throughout the album. Freedman, now at 41 years of age, musically long since came of age, and on this wonderful follow-up to his two previous releases, his musical journeying continues on with a cultured and fresh originality that is both purposeful and innovative.

“Imagine That” kicks off in style with the lively, infectious “Determined Soul”. One of the things that makes this album so enjoyable is the fact that each musician brings with them their own skill and original style. None more so, perhaps, than guitarist Lional Loueke, who lights up the proceedings with his joyful, spirited playing. Composed by keyboardist Jason Lindner, the tune has a distinct Afrobeat sound and feel to it. “Baby Aya”‘ composed by Freedman, is a stunning piece of music. “I sang this tune to my baby daughter” explains the multi-talented drummer, “In the middle of the night when I thought she’d never go to sleep…it’s almost a joke- a melody that sounds like a lullaby, but with a rhythm that feels like a party towards the end.” This piece of music is so original, with such a beautiful, thoughtful feel to it, it moves me every time I hear it, contemplative yet ultimately celebratory and uplifting; lifted even higher with the vocals that come in and build up as the tune progresses. The seductive “Big In Yemen” begins with Loueke on the oud, the Middle Eastern sounds adding a nostalgic feel to the tune. Based on a rhythmic Yemenite groove, guitar and keyboards eventually combine on this coolest of tunes. Radiohead’s “Codex” could be seen as a surprise choice, but in the hands of these musicians, arranged by Freedman and Lindner, they make it their own in explosively creative fashion. It’s nice to see an album where many of the members contribute to the writing, not just the performing, and guitarist Loueke brings his tune “Mindaho” to the table, with terrific results. The tune itself has an emotionally engaging centre to it, with the drums and percussion completely unified, sharing an intuitively rewarding path, one that sparkles with truth and awareness. “Love Takes Time” is a beautiful piece written by Lindner. Deceptively simple and soulful to the core. Another major plus point to this recording is the sound. It’s such an open, honest feel created by the band (and sound engineers), it makes me smile on every listen. One of the many pleasures is listening to Omer Ivital’s bass, highlighted on this tune. The ballad “Eastern Elegy” is a tune that Freedman wrote when the war was escalating in Syria. “I saw pictures of the destruction in Aleppo and had also talked to a friend whose family was from there. The ballad is a kind of wordless elegy for all that was, that can’t be brought back.” The influences of Freedman’s collaborations with fellow Third World Love band member Avishai Cohen are apparent on the closing number “The Sisters Dance”. Play it loud is all I can say- your room will be filled with an infectious youthful spirit that dances in and out of the sunlight coming in through the windows; like another world entering a different domain. And that is what this album achieves so well; a meeting of cultures and musical minds joyously sharing their stories and journeys. Open the your doors and windows and let the music in!

Mike Gates