Norman Hedman and Tropique: Taken by Surprise

Even though Jamaica is only spitting distance from Cuba, we generally don’t think of Jamaica as producing percussionists in the Afro-Cuban vein. Well, Norman Hedman, and his six-piece ensemble, nicely counters those misconceptions with his latest album, Taken By Surprise, a laid-back, sunny excursion.

While the polyrhythms are all crisp, and the horn solos from saxophonist Roger Byam and flutist Craig Rivers are rhythmically agile, Taken By Surprise leans more toward the breezier American West Coast Latin vibe than the overheated explosions of Cuba and Puerto Rico. In fact, Hedman’s more leisurely pace comes in handy on the beautiful ballad “Just For Ruby,” which sways like a mid-’70s R&B slow jam. Still, Hedman and his band’s thick rhythmic arsenal are very much to the fore, as evident by the bristling, “Pa’ Bailar,” which features a great solo from timbalito Willie Martinez.

Taken By Surprise doesn’t pack a wallop at first, but it rewards with a big punch after repeated listens.