One of the most in-demand drummers in New York - tapped by the likes of Angélique Kidjo, Sting and Anat Cohen - Daniel Freedman presents his third album as a leader, the rhythmically infectious Imagine That. To be released in the U.S. by Anzic Records on April 15, 2016, Imagine That draws on a world of music: tune-rich originals that channel African, Middle Eastern, Latin and Indian grooves, as well as an astoundingly fresh version of a rarely covered Radiohead song ("Codex"). Freedman, born and bred in New York City, leads an international quintet that features guitarist-vocalist Lionel Loueke (from Benin), keyboardist Jason Lindner (Brooklyn), bassist Omer Avital (Israel) and percussionist Gilmar Gomes (Brazil). Benin-born vocal star Angélique Kidjo, with whom Freedman has toured the world as drummer in her band, sings "Baby Aya," a dancing lullaby he wrote for his infant daughter. Imagine That is the follow-up to Freedman's 2012 Anzic album, Bamako by Bus, which garnered his band a showcase live on NPR:
Freedman, 41, has close connections to each member of the band for Imagine That. He went to LaGuardia High School for Music and Arts (the "Fame" school) alongside Jason Lindner, playing in various groups with him ever since. Lindner played on Bamako by Bus, and both the keyboardist and drummer have long been members of clarinet superstar Anat Cohen's bands. Freedman and Lindner met Omer Avital when they were all part of the fertile 1990s scene at the jazz club Smalls in New York's West Village; the three played together in Lindner's original hit big band), and Lindner and Avital featured on Freedman's debut album, 2001's Trio (Fresh Sound New Talent). For the past decade, Freedman and Avital have also played alongside each other in hit multicultural band Third World Love (with Avishai Cohen and Yonathan Avishai). Lionel Loueke played with the rhythm pair on Avishai Cohen's album After The Big Rain, as well as on Bamako by Bus. Freedman has played with Gilmar Gomes in studio sessions and tours with Kidjo, Anat Cohen and New York/Brazilian band Forro in the Dark.
The polyrhythmic rapport between Freedman and Gomes is a key element of
Imagine That. It's never about flash, but about soul.. "When I play with Gilmar, we become this living, breathing percussion animal," Freedman says. "In the Brooklyn studio for the new album, we set up next to each other without any separation - he's in my microphones, and I'm in his. We're one." About the way the entire quintet plays together, Freedman adds: "All of these guys really listen to each other - no one ever overplays. And there's a lot of spontaneity and surprises in the music. Like with the Radiohead tune, 'Codex,' which I love for its atmosphere and beautiful melody. We got it together in the studio for the first time, and it had a great vibe right away. Lionel had never heard the song before, but when we tripped out the ending in our own way, he just reacted and ripped into it - it was unexpected and exciting."
Reflecting on the way drummer-composers have made for some great leaders of bands down through the decades - from Max Roach and Art Blakey to Tony Williams and Brian Blade - Freedman says: "Drummer-leaders have a good overall POV of the music, I think. A drummer can lay down a vibe but also push the players rhythmically, pacing and shaping the music. In jazz - or whatever you want to call this music - leading a band has a lot to do with the musicians you choose. It's about the personality and sound of the players. For instance, I don't have a guitar in the band - I have Lionel Loueke. It's not a keyboard - it's Jason Lindner. All these guys - and how we react to each other, complement each other - make the music what it is. The sessions were relaxed and fun, with a fresh, positive energy, and I hope you can hear that on the album."
Imagine That- track by track with Daniel Freedman:
1. "Determined Soul" (Jason Lindner) - "Jason wrote this especially for my band," Freedman says. "It's a mix of Afrobeat and almost a boogaloo, with a South Indian feel toward the end."
2. "Baby Aya" (Daniel Freedman) - "I sang this tune to my baby daughter in the middle of the night when I thought she'd never go back to sleep. It's almost a joke - a melody that sounds like a lullaby, but with a rhythm that feels like a party toward the end. Lionel translated my simple words into the West African language of Fon, singing them to both my children. To hear Angélique add her voice was a thrill - and totally fitting for this lullaby that has zero chance of putting anyone back to sleep. Gilmar's super-original batucada at the end is one of my favorite moments on the record."
3. "Big in Yemen" (Daniel Freedman) - "I wrote this melody on the oud while on tour - it always felt like a mantra for a long journey, something you sing over and over as your body moves forward. I love the way Omer's oud segues into Lionel's effected guitar.Jason added some synths to the end that update this ancient-sounding melody. The song's rhythm is based on a Yemenite groove, but Gilmar and I put a twist on it for a kind of Yemeni/Bahia hybrid."
4. "Codex" (Radiohead) - "Not one of Radiohead's most famous songs, but I fell in love with it on The King of Limbs. Jason and I arranged it for the quintet, though this was one of those things that you aren't quite sure will work. But as soon as we started playing, it felt right. I love that long, explosive Lionel solo at the end, as well as the color and depth that Jason's subtle electronics add."
5. "Mindaho" (Lionel Loueke) - "I always love playing other people's tunes within my own band as a way to have different compositional styles in a set. It's also a great way to have players shine on their own material. On this one by Lionel, his solo is so emotional. And Jason's opening chords kill me every time... I also love the way Gilmar and I created one sound. It doesn't feel like a drummer and a percussionist, but rather one energized percussion section."
6. "Love Takes Time" (Jason Lindner) - "Another tune of Jason's that is simple, soulful and a joy to play. The main influence is Motown. Omer's solo is really perfect."
7. "Eastern Elegy" (Daniel Freedman) - "This is a ballad that I wrote right when the war in Syria was escalating. I saw pictures of the destruction in Aleppo and had also talked to a friend whose family was from there. He was talking about the town's food being among the best in the world. The ballad is a kind of wordless elegy for all that was, that can't be brought back. Again, Omer's solo here is a perfectly constructed statement. I'm proud to have that moment on my record."
8. "The Sisters Dance" (Daniel Freedman) - "This was written as a sequel in a way to my tune 'All Brothers' on Bamako by Bus. There's a way of playing on the hi-hat cymbal that I really enjoy; it's kind of a homemade interpretation of Gnawa Karkaba.The bass line is also derived from gnawa music. There is definitely an influence here from Avishai Cohen and all the years we listened to Oumou Sangare constantly and performed our tunes in Third World Love.Gilmar plays a solo here with insane fire. When I put this song on recently at home, it seemed successful because both of my daughters were dancing around the house like crazy and got angry when I turned it off!"
Drummer, percussionist and composer Daniel Freedman grew up in a musical New York City family. In high school, he studied with master drummers Max Roach, Billy Higgins and Vernel Fournier and later traveled to study drumming in West Africa, Cuba and the Middle East. Coming up as part of the Smalls scene in the 1990s, Freedman was a member of Jason Lindner's acclaimed big band, as well as Omer Avital's sextet. The drummer has been a member of the collective Third World Love for the past decade, along with touring and recording with Anat Cohen. He also toured the world as a member of Grammy-winning singer Angélique Kidjo's band from 2009 to 2015.
Freedman has played and recorded with such artists as Sting, Youssou N'Dour, Dianne Reeves, Omara Portuondo, Tom Harrell, Wynton Marsalis and Meshell Ndegeocello. In 2012, Anzic released his sophomore album as a leader, Bamako by Bus, which featured a core band of Avishai Cohen, Lionel Loueke, Jason Lindner and Meshell N'degeocello, along with Mark Turner, Pedro Martinez, Abraham Rodriguez, Omer Avital, Joshua Levitt and Davi Viera. Freedman's debut album, Trio, received a nine-star review in Modern Drummer magazine, and he was featured as one of the publication's "Young Lions." The New York Times selected him as one of five young drummers on the New York scene who helped change jazz drumming for the piece "Propelled by Different Drummers." As founder of New York-based music house HiHAt.tv, Freedman has written and produced dozens of spots for television and the Web.
Encapsulating Freedman's talents, this praise recently came for Imagine That via TSF Jazz (French radio): "With one foot firmly planted in jazz and the other in world music, drummer Daniel Freedman synthesizes two vast universes."