Roots & Grooves
It takes a profound gift and a selfless heart to produce music of healing power that both grooves and soothes with righteous spirit and technical mastery. Winds instrument master Jowee Omicil is in possession of the keys on his soulful sophomore CD, Roots & Grooves - in stores November 2nd. Playing nearly ALL manner of wind and reed instruments - primarily saxophones, clarinet and flutes - Jowee has crafted a transfixing 15-song CD melding sounds from `round the globe, utilizing musicians and technicians from four continents. The music branches from a base of jazz to include the essence of many cultures with indigenous roots in the music of Haiti, the place of Canadian-born Jowee's extended family roots.
More than a mere player, Jowee (pronounced like "Joey") is a unique and prolific composer, producer, arranger, vocalist band leader and music instructor who has devoted much of his time to passing down his broad knowledge of musicology to students of all ages. The son of a father who was both a minister and a professor of Theology, Jowee is now passionately focused on sharing his music with the world through recordings and performance. On May 18, 2010, Jowee had the honor of being invited to President Barack Obama's White House to play his music for its inaugural observation of Haitian Flag Day before 150 VIP guests. With his latest release, Roots & Grooves, Jowee offers a work that is steeped in purpose yet listener-friendly and accessible to all. In essence, that is the only way he knows to approach the making of his music.
"Roots & Grooves is very different from my first CD, Let's Do This (2006)," Jowee states of his album (mixed in Japan by acclaimed engineer Goh Hotoda who helmed Marcus Miller’s acclaimed CD Tales). "The quantifying equalizer is spirituality. Roots & Grooves is the complete Jowee - all the music the way I hear it. Aesthetically, I was directed to develop a special sound..."
Jowee is an intuitive tone weaver of fusion, blending his singing voice with his “voice” on wind instruments, and in possession of a very unique approach to arranging. One example is the burning instrumental "Cubha Tiando," a piece Jowee and drummer Francisco Mela composed dedicated to Cuba and Haiti. Within you hear strands of both cultures in the rhythms and the solo strains of Jowee and electric guitarist Nir Felder. Also there is a solo of Jowee's titled "Ayibobo," a percussive piece on which he pays all of the instruments and is joined on turntable by Val Jeanty that is dedicated to the mother land. "J n Jn" is a remake of an electric song from his first album that Jowee decided to re-examine with a more naked "roots" approach (the title is abbreviations of his name and of co-writer, Jean-Marc Faustin.)
And then there is "Micky's Groove." "That one was inspired by Michel Martelly - 'Sweet Micky,' El Presidente of Compas music - a real pioneer," Jowee explains. "Micky is also a great philanthropist in Haiti and Miami, feeding the hungry and providing moral support, through his foundation. I arranged this song the way things were done back in the day - with just a little percussion, acoustic guitar and a backbeat. Compas is the popular version of a traditional music known as Twoubadou."
Jowee's innovative arrangements were so progressive at points that some pieces confounded members of his band upon initial playing. "While we were in the studio, I faced a little adversity," he admits. "I had people doubting me, but I had The Master in my corner, so I knew I would prevail. When they would ask, 'Why do you want to do this over that,' I said, 'Because I hear something YOU haven't heard yet!' If you haven't heard much, you can't play much. You have to listen...constantly! Artists are dying on the vine every day because they are not searching."
Another revealing aspect of Jowee's Roots & Grooves is that nearly every song is a dedication making the project especially inspired. One of the most moving songs is "4 My People." "I wrote that for the flood victims in Haiti and rededicated it to the earthquake victims," he states. "That melody is what I wanted them to hear. Haitians are African so ultimately that song is for the world. It's simple and spiritual, that's what I want them to feel - the journey I am taking them on. I believe firmly in music as therapy." Another dedication is "Wolé'" which he wrote for his daughter Marissah Jann. "That's a victory chant," he explains, "In my humble opinion, it shows the powerful link between compa compas, jazz, hip hop and roots music." And then here is the delightful "Emily's Groove" which he gifted to one particular child but ultimately intends for all kids. "Emily is my brother in law's daughter," Jowee explains. "We were in his basement and he had this groove. When he shared it with me, he had Emily on his lap and she just lit up listening to it. That was the last song I wrote for Roots & Grooves...and the first we recorded because it was so fresh in my mind."
Jowee Omicil was born in Montreal, Canada. Though his mother sadly died when he was very young, he remembers her always telling him to finish all the food on his plate?- "achevez'" - which he later adopted to mean “achieve your goals.” Jowee was raised by a very strong father, Joseph Omicil,Sr. minister of his own Elim Church of Montreal ("Elim" translating as a place to obtain water), a respected professor of philosophy, and a Black man of Haitian descent in a not-always-supportive Canada. He sternly and single-handedly brought up five children of outstanding achievement: lawyers, accountants, an actor and Jowee. Joseph insisted that all his children study music. Jowee, though reluctant at first, eventually embarked upon his studies as a spiritual journey and has taken musical arts the furthest in his family.
"My dad's dream was to have, like, a symphony within his church," Jowee shares. "He wanted my younger brother and I to play wind instruments. The Bible speaks of David playing trumpet and my dad saw wind instruments as the ones that 'called to the people.'" One fateful Saturday morning, Jowee picked out an old silver Kohn alto saxophone with a transparent mouthpiece from the town music teacher's stash. Practicing was a chore at first, but he slowly began to fall in love with it, later taking up soprano sax, then flute, clarinet and tenor sax, later even adding harmonica and piccolo to his resume.
"I fell in love with sax at 15, going to the library and checking out records. First I discovered Steve Coleman & Five Elements (Black Science), then David Sanborn (Another Hand). I listened to Coltrane and Bird in Montreal but didn't like them at first, so I just taped them and saved them for later. I was intrigued by the haunting sound of Kenny G. When I graduated, I received a full ride scholarship to the Berklee School of Music. I met some new friends who were really tight with another 'Kenny G' - Kenny Garrett! He really turned me around and the rest is history."
Taking great inspiration from the innovative greats of be bop and beyond, Jowee reasons, "All of the great cats were searching. The new players merely go with the flow. They're not searching for the inner self. They're just dealing with the surface and what feels good - a vibe. Everybody is trying to play groove music but they don't know why. Groove is like jazz - you've got to dedicate yourself... For example, I love 'Con Alma so much that I've got to find my own way to play it - because I am not Dizzy Gillespie. The way Dizzy put it out there for us is so we can make something else out of it."
Jowee extends this philosophy to his students, teaching as many life lessons as he does music lessons. "They call me 'Mr. O.,'" Jowee states with pride. "I encourage them to take their craft seriously and make a contribution that is singularly their own. I also urge them to do whatever they want in life because it is more important to empower and motivate young people today. Sometimes I put lessons aside and just talk to them...because so many of them already have some heavy-heavy stuff going on in their lives."
Which returns Jowee full circle to his music being steeped in the spirituality set forth by his father. "I had the honor of producing music on the very last recording of Haiti's great Pepe Bayard," Jowee reflects. "He was dying while we were making that record, but immersing himself in music helped him live a a whole lot longer. That's the power of music... and that's what I want to bring back. I also want people to DANCE to jazz again. Jazz was once popular music and I want the world to groove once again."
On Roots and Grooves, an album rendered in a disciplined two days times, filled with serenely soulful pan cultural Afro-jazz beats and closing with a gospel medley straight out of his father's church, Jowee has succeeded exponentially beyond expectations. "The saxophone became my instrument to minister to the world," Jowee concludes," and I do not take it lightly."