WBGO: Spoken Into Existence

It takes a truly dedicated musician to, after recording many records as leader, move to another part of the world to surround himself around different cultures, people, experiences….just so that he can perfect his craft and become a better person.  That’s exactly what Chico Freeman did when he moved to Europe which is where he’s been for the last 10 years.  But he’s back with a record that makes a statement that you hear loud and clear.

The 1st track is a classic one but immediately puts his spin on it and makes it all his own.  It’s got a nice groove that doesn’t take over the original but I must admit, as many times as I’ve heard “Seven Steps to Heaven” before, I don’t think I’ve ever found myself nodding my head to it.  So this is a nice treat that listeners will certainly enjoy.

Another head nodder and toe tapper is “India Blue” which isn’t too fast nor too slow, but just a super cool flow that you can listen to at any time of day.   Chico is adamant about presenting new material as well as standards and this song feels so right that you forget that there’s even a difference. But real good music does just that. Makes you forget the differences and enjoy what’s right.

Chico not only showcases more of his original material, he pays tribute to his daughters in 5 beautiful songs that seem to have a personality on its own; it is as if you’re getting to know his daugthers’ through each song.  “Dance of Light for Luani”  is soft yet there’s a particular passion behind it that makes it undeniably beautiful.  “Nia’s Quest” makes your fingers snap and you can almost imagine a little girl dancing around in a pretty dress and pig tails.  N’Tiana’s Dream is mellow yet powerful and “Erika’s Reverie” moves with a style and grace all its own.  “Lara’s Lullaby” is so carefully beautiful that you can almost hear words being sung to it.  With each of these songs, there is no denying the love Chico has for each daughter individually.

Chico, who said he has never recorded a blues tune before, finally did so on this album with his take on a Stanley Turrentine original “Soft Pedal Blues”.  He was inspired by Stanley himself to record this tune and the slow yet soulful tone pays good homage to a lesser known song by this saxophone legend.
“Niskayuna”, written by bassist Heri Kanzig, showcases the talent of pianist Antonio Farao yet not taking away a single note from Chico who’s sax simply sings on this song.  Another ballad, appropriately titled “Ballad for Hakima” will move your spirit so, as it was written for the wife of drummer Freddie Waits, father of Nasheet Waits.  This song is personal, and you can feel the love, respect, and admiration that Chico has for Hakima-a beautiful woman, wife, and mother.

Although Chico has been away from the U.S. for some time, I wouldn’t call this album a “come back” album, as Chico has never left.  Spoken Into Existence is an album that speaks of a true artist, one who was humble enough to challenge himself to become even better at his craft.  From start to finish, this album tells a tale of one who truly honors the music he creates.  This album will be in constant rotation for years to come.

Nicole Sweeney
Afternoon Jazz