Freedom Suite is both different and unique and traditional and common at the same. Mixing hip-hop elements first done well, in a jazz vein, by Miles Davis on Boo-Dop, expanded in many ways with mixed results by Greg Osby on his 3-D Lifestyles, and made accessible and popish by Quincy Jones, this recording incorporates all of these influences as well as throwing in a few of its own. This music presented here is pop, R&B, hip-hop and jazzy, with the inclusion of straight-up interviews with artists like Branford Marsalis, Herbie Hancock, Questlove, Angela Davis and Amiri Baraka, making it a bit of historical fact as well.
While there are times when the beat is so infectious and the groove so hot you can’t help wanting to dance, there are also times when the focus is lost. The Beast, Eric Hirsh on keyboards, Peter Kimosh on bass, Stephen Coffman on drums and Emcee Pierce Freelon, have brought in a bevy of securely talented other musicians, such as trumpeter Igmar Thomas, and top-notch production people giving the entire project a professional sheen not usually granted musicians who are just starting out. It also doesn’t hurt that Nnenna Freelon’s exquisite vocals are layered on top of some of the tracks.
Originally meeting at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, this band has forged a style that is accessible, modern and now. While the jazz standard “Skylark” doesn’t really work in this vein with its mismatched rhythms, other tracks hit homeruns. “Rise Beyond The Sky” and “Let It Go” should find radio play. Overall, this recording is a mish-mash of influences, styles, sound designs and soundscapes that are not unpleasant and a worthy first statement. It will be interesting to see where this group goes from here.