Jazz Racine Haiti
Jacques Schwarz-Bart’s conflation of jazz with the voodoo music of Haiti is executed so seamlessly here that the background info he provides is somewhat superfluous, but here goes: Schwarz-Bart’s mother was from Guadeloupe, her son absorbed the keening, spiritual chants associated with voodoo while growing up, and he’s since found similar melodic properties between the genre and jazz that he believes are worth investigating. Schwarz-Bart, a 51-year-old French-born saxophonist and composer, has made numerous visits to Haiti, seeking ways to define that sweet spot, and Jazz Racine Haïti is his first full-length exploration of the relationship between the two. (Racine music, he writes, is “roots music from the countryside of Haiti.”)
Good to know, but the results speak for themselves. Schwarz-Bart builds most of the 10 tunes, all of which he wrote and produced, around those common-ground rhythms and melodies. Dominant are two voodoo priests, vocalist Erol Josué and percussionist Gaston “Bonga” Jean-Baptiste, and two other vocalists, Rozna Zila and Stephanie McKay. The core music is provided by several jazz notables, including bassist Ben Williams, trumpeter Etienne Charles, pianists Milan Milanovic and Gregory Privat, drummer Obed Calvaire and bassist Reggie Washington.
The shared African roots of both jazz and voodoo music are exposed instantly as the lead track, “Kouzin,” unfolds. A lone drum and Josué’s chant are both timeless and ancient—very distant. Milanovic’s piano and Calvaire’s drums aren’t subtle in their entrance, nor are the sax and trumpet, but the cultural hybrid is undeniably natural. Other tracks conjoin the two key elements more subtly, leaning more toward jazz tradition, but the Haitian underpinnings are never far from the surface. Not until the set winds down with the final track, “Legba Nan Baye,” a conversation solely between Zila’s voice and Schwarz-Bart’s horn, are we again reminded in a more blatant manner of Schwarz-Bart’s intent. It’s a naked piece that drives home the connections, but by then Schwarz-Bart and his colleagues have already succeeded in their objective.