The 2006 New York Christmas season in the Haitian community entertainment industry started with a celebratory big bang. The Haitian Jazz Festival paraded some of the finest musicians onstage at Irving Plaza, this Saturday December 23, 2006. The line-up consisted of Mozayik, the Altino Brothers, Reginald Policard, Jowee Omicil, Beethova Obas, Mushy Widmaier, Chardavoine, James Germain, and Ginou Oriol.
Irving Plaza, a large concert hall, located in Gramercy Park in lower Manhattan, was swarming with Haitians and other nationalities to witness the third Haitian Jazz concert organized by John Altino (Papa Jube).
The concert which began with a duo performance by the incredibly talented classical pianists: the Altino Brothers, who performed Haiti's national anthem, La Dessalinienne, as a duet. Their rendition of this hymn was very strong and majestic. Everyone stood up silently as they listened to this wonderful forte like interpretation arranged by the Altinos.
Then, Jowee Omicil, a young Haitian alto and soprano saxophonist, opened up the program for the evening. Leading a quartet of musicians in a funky-jazz style and holding his horn upright for the entire duration of his act as if aiming at the ceiling on a 90 degree angle, Omicil performed for over half an hour keeping the audience abreast throughout his act. His band consisted of a drummer (Mani Lainé), a guitar player, and a bassist (Kasu). His performance drew much applause. His mentor, Kenny Garrett, an alto sax player who once was a member of the Miles Davis group, was seating not far from the stage, listening attentively and reacting with appreciation, for each time Jowee excitedly screeched notes on the altissimo range of his horn.
Chardavoine, a seasoned guitarist who has already released two CDs and who is making his first appearance in this jazz concert series, followed Omicil and opened up with a Stevie Wonder tune. When Chardavoine, the band leader, performed the old Haitian standard Lavi Mizisyen the crowd reacted and some people even began singing along with Chardavoine's riffs. His group comprised of an electric bass player, a trumpet player, a percussionist, a drummer, a keyboardist. The band which played outstandingly well kept its momentum and got off stage with a loud clapping from the audience, as if requesting an encore performance.
Mozayik, a band making their third appearance at the Haitian Jazz Concert series, followed Chardavoine. Their arrangement and interpretation of Latibonit was punctuated with vigor and suppleness. Markus Schwartz, the group's percussionist delivered a very compelling performance with dazzling rhythms and syncopation borrowed from his array of percussion arsenals. The pianist, Welmyr Jean-Pierre, whose performance was brilliant and flawless, hammered his piano on a Latin style in one of the tunes by laying down grooves with extreme dexterity that had the audience's attention throughout his solo. His style of playing combined with that of jazz guitarist Eddy Bourjolly, added more fuel to the fiery Mozayik cadence which was supported by drummer Gashford, and bassist Gene Torres. A gracious Haitian folkloric dancer joined the band on stage to add vivacity and more pace to the act.
Following Mozayik was James Germain, a singer with a powerful and impressive commanding voice. Standing stoically and wearing a beautiful African garment, Germain's singing was very dominant and mesmerizing. He was accompanied by Welmyr Jean-Pierre, on the piano. The singer paid tribute to Tiga (Jean-Claude Garoute), the well-known Haitian painter who just passed away, by dedicating him the song "Solèy" The duo's performance brought a lot of clapping before, during, and after each song. It's unfortunate that Germain's recital was too short, singing only two songs.
Mushy Widmaier, a pianist who hardly ever performs for the New York audience, took the stage after Germain. Mushy, who played the keyboard and other synthesizer instruments, captivated the audience from the very first chord he laid on the keys. He convened a formidable band which comprised of his brother and drummer Joel Widmaier, bassist Richard Barbot, Dener Seide, a young guitarist, trumpeter Jean Caze, and appearing as a guest: percussionist Markus Schwartz. The band played originals from Mushy's latest CD, My World. Mushy's musical selections for the concert were marvelously simple and yet stunningly complex. His compositions are a scaffold of short segmented melodies, often re-phrased and riveted into rich harmonic improvisation superbly delivered by soloists like Caze (who played an important, if complementary role), Mushy himself, and Seide. Joel with carefulness and compound drumming lines added to the structure keeping the tempo and meter in near perfect timing. Listening to Mushy's live performance, one experiences an intimate acquaintance with this player's music. While embracing certain contemporary techniques and developing a unique genre in the newly emerging Haitian jazz movement, Mushy found a very rich and an artful niche where he draws for his musical inspiration and a source for his creative improvisation. His symmetric jazz phrasing and his reference to Haitian clichés and popular vernacular leave the listener breathless and stupendous at time.
Vocalist Ginou Oriol was the only female on the bill. She was accompanied by the Chardavoine band which was increased by Duke Guillaume, a tenor saxophone player and brother of Gashford Guillaume (Mozayik). She opened up with Yoyo, a well-known Haitian traditional and a favorite standard amongst musicians. Her suave vocal, combined with individualized and stylized inflection and overall jazz melodic concept throughout the three tunes that she sang, brought an air of refreshment to the listeners. While performing her last song, the classic My Funny Valentine, the band's overall sound was overpowering the singer, but Ginou, being the naturally powerful vocalist and skilled musician that she is, was able to elevate her voice and adjust her singing to lead the band. Chardavoine's band did a fantastic job accompanying Ms. Oriol. The audience showed their appreciation through intermittent ovation.
Then it was time for Beethova Obas, who is making his third emergence at the Haitian Jazz Festival. The fans warmly welcomed Beethova, by getting out of their seats clapping their hands and greeting the artist with words of gratitude. Beethova, playing an acoustic guitar, wasted no time in introducing his brother, a singer, and the rest of the band - Bobby Raymond, bass; Shedley Abraham, drums; Sergo Decius, Haitian drums; Welmyr Jean-Pierre, keyboard. Beethova, who is so at ease with his audience, pleased the crowd with some of his old classic. He passionately sang "Plezi Mizè" as if he knew that Buyu Ambroise and Emeline Michel were in the audience. Both Emeline and Buyu recorded Plezi Mizè, a Beethova's composition. (Speaking of Buyu, his absence from the line-up was very much noticed by fellow musicians as well as the audience)
Beethova's music, ballad or fast-tempo, created a flowing polyrhythmic pulse that elevated the audience's spirit near nirvana with prosaic lyricism and silky singing. The spectators sang every word of this man's music as the artist sat kè pòpòz (relaxed) with his guitar flanked by musicians. What a delightful act!
The final act was Reginald Policard and his group. By the time Reginald walked onto stage, the clock was showing past 2 A.M. Performers and people in the audience were already showing signs of fatigue. The concert was already in its fifth hour. By that time, a good part of the audience had already vacated the premises. Policard, we assume, had to shorten his program in order to bring the concert to an end. He meticulously and succinctly played three beautifully arranged selections from his latest release, Detour. The musicians that appeared with him were: Joel Widmaier on drums, Jean Caze on trumpet, and Richard Barbot on bass. Eddy Bourjolly, Mozayik's guitarist, was a guest in one of the songs Reginald performed that night. However, Policard's music did not get much response from a perhaps already saturated audience. The music though focused and played agreeably and with a great deal of precision, seemed to lack the intensity and fury. Knowing this performer's history, we think that, given a better opportunity, Reginald would have made a stronger deliverance of his music.
Much kudos to all the performers and organizers. This year, this second New York Haitian Jazz Festival was much better organized. The space was to a large extent more accommodating for a huge size audience. The sound system was better calibrated and more pristine. Once again, the artists gave their very best performance!
Let us support this movement that is slowly growing in our community! Congratulations to Papa Jube and his collaborators who already have committed themselves to bring this festival in Miami a few months from now. We are anxiously waiting to see what the line-up will be.