The title track of the new album by Mike Freeman Zonavibe "Blue Tjade" is in Freeman's own words a top of the hat to the legendary Cal Tjader, but is only one of ten originals on the new album of latin jazz flavored performances. Freeman has certainly evolved since playing drums and vibraphone (starting at 12) and by 15 was a percussionist with Omaha Symphony. Resident in New York since 1981, he is known for his work with a number acclaimed Latin groups including Lucho Cueto’s all-star group Black Sugar, and with Ray Mantilla's Good Vibrations Band and has an upcoming project co-led with salsa singer Julio Salgado. He has six albums (including the present disc) of original music that incorporate music (jazz, Latin jazz, salsa, Brazilian, fusion, and R&B. This recording has him with several stalwarts of the New York music scene: bassist Ruben Rodriguez, conga master Chembo Corniel, and drummer/percussionist Willie Martinez. Chicago's Jim Gailloreto rounds out this group on tenor saxophone and flute.
There is plenty of lively sounds opening with the straight ahead "Cascade," as well as "Cool My Curry Down," with its use of Mozambique rhythms and nice breaks for Corniel and Martinez while the leader's nimble and bouncy mallet playing along with both tenor sax and flute from Gailloreto adds to the appeal on this latter track. There is a light, almost Brazilian groove to the title track with lovely flute on a very attractive, irresistible groove that is lightly, but firmly, played with lively flute and mallet solos. "Dance of the Dead" is another spirited composition with Gailloreto's robust tenor playing dealing with this composition that has a thematic section influenced by Milt Jackson's "Namesake." "Snowflake" is a very pretty ballad performance with lovely flute and crystalline vibes.
The percussion here, like throughout this recording, adds to the excitement of the performances. Freeman's mallets are consistently fluid, precise and lively making for some very spirited music and the entire group plays at a high level. "Blue Tjade" is wonderfully played music that delights the listener.
I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared originally in the May-June 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 366). Here is the title track.