Norman Hedman’s Tropique – Taken By Surprise

Taken By Surprise
Norman Hedman’s Tropique
(Palmetto – 2000)
by John Barrett

This band is breezy but strong –think of Pucho, or a tougher version of Cal Tjader. This comes naturally to Norman Hedman; the conguero patterns his sound after Tjader’s man Armando Peraza. Craig Rivers’ flute whistles on “Unpredictable Eugene”, backed by agentle-toned tenor. Don’t forget the vibes: A. J. Mantas stays on the quiet side, with glassy chords when needed. His mallets open “Pa’ Bailar”, and a crazy montuno ensues. The sax is good, the tune is fine … but you remember the rhythm. ‘Rudy’s Mambo” glows from a slow heat: Rivers purrs, Mantas chimes, and the piano has elegant force. This sound requires you to dance, and rarely slows down – though “Soft Serenade” is a great exception. My feet were tapping the whole time I listened … you don’t hear this music, you feel it.

Horns take the prize on “Can’t Sella Secret”: Roger Byam’s alto hollers a little, and the band slides along. George Cables stops by for two tunes: his music-box beauty works on “Rags to Riches”. (Special honors to Ronnie Buttacavoli, whose flugelhorn lights up the place.) If you like your bolero thoughtful, try “Just for Ruby” – the vibes dance as the reeds wander slowly. “Maurice” is earthy, fueled by kalimba and big wiry bass. Hedman is alone for the encore, in a minute building a wall of irresistible sound. I think you will enjoy this album; if not, I’d be taken by surprise.