Motéma Music Will Release Omnivorous Saxophonist, Composer, Producer and Arranger’s Jazz Racine Haiti on February 11
Jacques Schwarz-Bart’s trajectory as a saxophonist might, at a glance, come across as a game of musical hopscotch. On recordings and in concerts, he has been a collaborator of such diverse artists as Roy Hargrove, D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, David Gilmore, Chucho Valdes, Danilo Perez, Ari Hoenig and Meshell N’Degeocello. In his efforts as a bandleader, however, he has followed a clear path, deeper and deeper into the music of his French Caribbean antecedents, which he has continued to blend with modern jazz. His newest project, Jazz Racine Haiti, is a culmination: With an international cast of musicians including two voodoo priests, Schwarz-Bart has created new arrangements of traditional Haitian voodoo ritual music and composed new music inspired by his rigorous engagement with the genre. Motéma Music releases the album February 11.
With Jazz Racine Haiti, Schwarz-Bart comes full circle. He is the son of two novelists, French-Jewish author André Schwarz-Bart and Guadeloupean writer Simone Schwarz-Bart. Jacques’ first musical education took place when, as a child in his parents’ house, his mother played recordings of classic voodoo music daily. While exploring jazz and classical music at the Berklee College of Music and beyond, he grew to appreciate what he called the “originality and greatness of voodoo music.” He further immersed himself in the voodoo music of his childhood on several trips he made to Haiti as an adult while playing with the beloved Caribbean band Tabou Combo. He explains, “Its melodies have a lyricism similar to that of opera and use complex modes that can also be found in jazz music (mixolydian, phrygian, lydian). But what sets it apart is its relationship with silence. The melodies have very punctuated structures, with breaths of various lengths, giving each emotion adequate space to synch in and reach your core. That dialogue with silence creates a doorway to the unknown.”
For Jazz Racine Haiti, Schwarz-Bart assembled two voodoo priests, singer Erol Josué and percussionist Gaston Jean-Baptiste (aka Bonga), and five jazz musicians. They headlined the opening night of the prestigious Banlieues Bleues Festival in Paris in 2011. Schwarz-Bart has since toured the project Morocco, Guadeloupe, France, Martinique, St. Lucia, La Rochelle, Haiti, Rouen and New York.
Schwarz-Bart produced the album, recording in November 2012 at Studio de Meudon in France and MSR Studios in New York. The recording features lead vocals by Erol Josué, Rozna Zila and Stephanie McKay; tenor sax by Jacques Schwarz-Bart; trumpet by Etienne Charles; flugelhorn by Alex Tassel; piano by Milan Milanović and Gregory Privat; upright bass by Ben Williams; electric bass by Reggie Washington; drums by Obed Calvaire, Arnaud Dolmen; and percussion by Gaston Jean-Baptiste (aka Bonga) and Claude Saturne.
Schwarz-Bart hopes that Jazz Racine Haiti will help to dispel common misconceptions about voodoo. Many mistakenly characterize it as an expression of evil, and have it confused with black magic. In reality, voodoo is an ancient African religion that came into the New World with the slaves to become Santería in Cuba and Candomblé in Brazil and to survive, with its original name, in Haiti. Its ultimate goal is to help its practitioners face the human condition and energize the spirit by connecting it to nature. Voodoo has inspired masterpieces of music, painting, sculpture and poetry and has provided strength and fortitude to many in times of unfathomable tragedy.
The resulting recording is at once an achievement of ethnomusicology and artistic innovation. And in spite of its faithful commitment to a centuries-old—and, to some, esoteric—musical and spiritual tradition, Jazz Racine Haiti is a fresh and remarkably accessible work. To be sure, French Caribbean melodies and rhythms are at the heart of so much African-American music; they were essential to the earliest jazz in New Orleans and are still resonant in so many strands of popular music. As such, Jazz Racine Haiti could be considered the album that reveals the thread connecting Schwarz-Bart’s otherwise puzzlingly various musical endeavors.
About Motéma Music
The Harlem-based label Motéma Music, led by Jana Herzen, specializes in jazz and other creative music that spans genres and generations. The company’s varied international roster received GRAMMY nominations in jazz, reggae and R&B, and features established music icons such as NEA Jazz Master Randy Weston and Jamaican jazz legend Monty Alexander; innovative mid-career artists including NAACP Image Award nominee Geri Allen, electro/acoustic pianist Marc Cary,vocalist Rene Marie; and remarkable rising stars such as Gregory Porter, whom the label launched in 2010, and the immensely acclaimed Pedrito Martinez Group, which debuted on Motéma in 2013. For more information: www.motema.com.
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