Blues in Red
Justin Time Records
If saxophonist Alix "Buyu" Ambroise's Blues in Red accomplished nothing else, it would still be worth a listen for its unstoppable Afro-Haitian percussion grooves. Percussionist Kahlil Kwame-Bell and kata drummer Fito Vivien join the trap-set drummer in Buyu's quintet, Obed Calvaire, on beats like the rara and the raboday, and these infectious rhythms will have you celebrating the wonders of Haitian music from the jump. On Blues in Red, however, Buyu and his ensemble use these rhythms as a springboard for free-wheeling improvisation, which adds another layer of enjoyment still.
When Buyu, who arranged or co-arranged eight of these 10 tracks, yokes the beats to jazz compositions like "Caravan" or "Complainte Paysanne (Kulu Se Mama)," the spiky originals get an extra kick; particularly successful is the latter's bubbly, playful beat, which lets Buyu, trombonist Dion Tucker, pianist Frederic Las Fargeas and bassist Paul Beaudry have fun with the theme at their (relative) leisure. This doesn't always happen; on the Haitian songs "Konbit Zaka" and "Minis Azaka," the frenetic beats won't let Buyu and Las Fargeas relax into the melodies, with the result that the bottom and top of the ensemble sound as if they are at odds. "Kote Moun Yo" and "Kouzen," though, find Buyu and Tucker blending their tones beautifully and taking swaggering bop solos with some percussion breaks thrown in for good measure.
Buyu's playing becomes a little vague without the beat under it, as in his smooth-jazzy take on Haiti's national anthem. But then, the vast majority of Blues in Red has the beat under it, and Buyu and his partners are to be commended for bringing out and playing over the real rhythms of Haiti.