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Dan Freedman, composer and pianist “…defines the living edge of jazz piano harmony!”

Review of Art Attack - Dan MacIntosh

The joy Dan Freedman derives from playing jazz piano is obvious. And the range of his chops is sometimes astounding, as this 10-track disc ranges from Bill Evans’s contemplative “Very Early”, to a swinging “Sweet Georgia Brown” (best known by some as The Harlem Globetrotters’ theme song).

Although Freedman’s take of “On Green Dolphin Street” also features drummer Giba Moojen, Freedman mostly plays solo piano throughout this recording. And while Freedman has fun with “Sweet Georgia Brown” – it is, after all, a fun song – he also digs deeply into the work’s rhythmic and melodic possibilities – even going for a few playful left-handed bass note runs. What starts out as something nearly meditative, eventually builds into a rollicking good time.

Freedman also plays two of his own compositions. One is titled “Laughing Child”; the other is called “Lives at Stake”. The latter is particularly noteworthy, as Freedman plays it on a “highly processed Marimba”, whatever that is. This music comes out a little on the weird side, yet it’s still quite creative.

Anyone with the nerve to take on “Chopsticks”, a song worn out by a million one-note show-offs, is either crazy or brilliant. I’ll vote for brilliant after hearing Freedman’s exploration of it, however. Instead of repeating the melody line, which we’ve all heard far too many times, Freedman searches for alternate melodic ideas just to keep it lively and surprising. At one point he even threatens to go into a little bit of “Rhapsody in Blue”, and this medley suggestion somehow sounds perfectly natural in Freedman’s sure hands.

Within a variety packed outing,
Art Attack also slips in one Beatles cover, “Michelle”. The song’s lyric, you may recall, paid homage to a beautifully mysterious girl, made all the more exotic because of her French tongue. Therefore, Freedman similarly invests much aural amazement into his playing. While he does build up a solid wall of chords, much the way McCoy Tyner might have done it, he never lets the song get away from him. At no point does the listener feel unduly distanced from this song’s lovely melody. Beatles music has almost been done to death the way “Chopsticks” has seriously put the rule of diminishing returns to the test. That he found nuance in “Michelle”, amazingly, is a credit to his intuitive talent.

Redoing “Chopsticks” was daring because the material – let’s face it -- is below him, but Freedman reveals an equal amount of guts via his recording of Oscar Peterson’s “Wheatland”. Freedman names both Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett as musical influences. But in this humble writer’s opinion, Peterson was the giant pianist of them all. I once witnessed a concert where Herbie Hancock (clearly, a formidable musician) played on the same bill with Peterson. And after each man had his own set, they joined together on stage, piano-to-piano. I felt bad for Hancock, because – at least on this particular night – he clearly appeared to be out of his league. Lightweight boxers should never get in the ring with the heavyweights, and on this evening, Hancock appeared to be in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

It’s hard to tell what weight class Freedman belongs in, to continue the boxing analogy. But that’s probably a moot point, since his playing on
Art Attack is so good.

-- Dan MacIntosh