Although the influences that lift Bamako by Bus are international‚ the original working title for drummer/percussionist Daniel Freedman's second disc as a leader was New York Nation: Both the music and the players who make it happen comes from the brilliant kaleidoscope that is the Big Apple music scene. With bassist Me'Shell Ndegeocello and keyboardist/fellow Anat Cohen Quartet member Jason Lindner acting as the constant for the sessions‚ Freedman then assembled a set of variables that helped develop one of the most joyous noises you're ever likely to hear.
The dub-centric beat of the opening traditional "Odudua" makes you wonder if Bamako by Bus is a play on Babylon by Bus‚ the title of Bob Marley's second-best live date; the Afro-Cuban vocals and Bata drum of Abraham Rodriguez lace the piece with extra Caribbean flavor. But then Lionel Loueke's singular vocals and percussive guitar appears and you find yourself in West Africa for "Elegba Wa‚" where Avishai Cohen's trumpet calls across the plain while Pedrito Martinez' conga and Yosvany Terry's chekere drives the piece forward at a dead‚ white-knuckle run. It's the kind of brilliant freneticism that makes you grin from ear to ear on the rollercoaster‚ even though you're quite sure the car's going to fly off into space any second.
The traveling isn't done‚ either. Loueke gives "All Brothers" the World Music feel he gifted Terence Blanchard's music before embarking on his own trail-blazing journey; Loueke also brings the proper atmosphere to the title track‚ which was inspired by a 30-hour bus trip Freedman took in Mali. Rodriguez‚ Martinez and Terry are a vocal and percussive orchestra on the prayer chant-cum-festival "Rumba Pa'NYC‚" while Joshua Levitt's Ney (a Persian‚ end-blown flute) adds another tribal layer to the electric atmosphere of "Darfur/Oasis." Freedman snaps back to Stateside for the hard-edged blues of "Deep Brooklyn‚" where Lindner's Fender Rhodes is full of Big Apple swagger‚ and Ndegeocello's funked-up bass lifts Cohen's wide-open solo.
Here's a concept: A drummer does a recording and takes no solos! God knows Freedman can bring the noise when the mood takes him‚ but it's all about accent and accompaniment here‚ as Freedman finds just the right touches to complete his compositions. His brush strokes are feather-light as Mark Turner plays stunning tenor on the ballad "Alona"‚ and he gives the bubbling "Sa'aba" the underlying tension it needs to drive its point home inch by inch: Lindner's keyboards add more patterns to Freedman's swirling collage while Turner and Cohen open a 40-ounce can of whup-ass.
They say it's the journey‚ not the destination. Freedman's journeys to West Africa‚ the Middle East and Cuba helped mold him into a death-defying percussionist that is not only comfortable in any genre you throw at him‚ he's marvelously innovative. We only get tastes of that journey on Bamako by Bus‚ but these flavorful samples let us know that what he saw must have been a sight to see.