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Norman Hedman’s Tropique: Garden of Forbidden Fruit

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This fifth album by conguero Norman Hedman and his Tropique ensemble shows promise at several points but unfortunately lacks the punch to follow through.

The disc alternates between two styles. On one hand are middle-of-the-road Latin-jazz tunes, featuring pleasant, hummable melodies and rendered at measured medium tempos; on the other, a series of R&B-tinged vocal tracks. The instrumentals are played competently and cleanly, but show little fire until the bouncy, percussion-filled “Island Spice” closes things out. Elsewhere, the results are lukewarm. On the positive side, “Cutting Loose” offers a happy little strut that sets off Sam Furnace’s alto saxophone rather well, along with the piano and vibes pairing of Misha and Alexei Tsiganov. The same three players combine for an intriguing harmonic effect in “Because I Can,” sounding a lot like an old-school synthesizer.

Actual synths and an overall retro feel pervade the vocal tracks, several of which seem to have slipped through a vortex from the 1980s. “Closer” is perhaps the most effective of these, with a catchy, uplifting arrangement and some nice soul styling from vocalist Ada Dyer. But the tune is hobbled by clichéd lyrics. A lilting wordless piece featuring Kendra Shank (“Wherever U R”) lacks this distraction and thus fares better, but the title track can’t shake a dated feel.

In the end, what this set needs is an infusion of energy, more variation in tempo and texture, and perhaps a more up-to-date reference point in the soul department.