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Festival International de Jazz de Port-au-Prince, 2018

Mark Sullivan By

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The festival remains the most truly "international" jazz festival I have attended. In addition to the rich Haitian flavor of the music and the event, the presence of all the participating countries is undeniable. They contribute a roster of excellent musicians, both famous and lesser known. And I can think of no other place where I have heard stage announcements in French, Creole, English, Spanish and Portuguese.
Festival International de Jazz de Port-au-Prince
Port-au-Prince, Haiti
January 20-27, 2018

For the 12th edition the Festival International de Jazz de Port-au-Prince (PAPJAZZ for short, which will be used to refer to the festival going forward, as well as introducing a new logo) returned to its usual schedule at the end of January. This is supposed to be the dry season, but more on that later. As always the character of the festival was significantly influenced by the partner countries and organizations: the Brazilian, Canadian, Chilean, French, German Mexican, Spanish, Swiss and USA Embassies; the French Institute; and Wallonie Bruxelles International. Brazil was the country of honor this year, hosting master classes at their Cultural Center and giving the inaugural evenings a Brazilian touch with dance demonstrations and capoeira (the Afro-Brazilian martial art that combines elements of dance, acrobatics and music).

January 20, 2018

Erik Truffaz/Emilie-Claire Barlow/Kenny Garrett



The inaugural concert took place at the Hotel Karibe, host to some of last year's shows. But the venue was substantially different. Instead of using the indoor meeting space, the stage was set up outdoors in the hotel's patio area: close enough to the lobby to allow the audience to take shelter indoors in case of rain. Rain wound up not being a problem on this night. A student big band from educational partner Collège Catts Pressoir (a Port-au-Prince school offering primary and secondary education) took advantage of the delay setting up the stage to play a lengthy introductory set from the "balcony" in the rear part of the space. They opened with a spirited version of Duke Ellington's classic jazz anthem "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)." A later funk tune featured an impressive section trading saxophone and trumpet solos, demonstrating a group depth beyond their ensemble playing. The set closed with "Tequila," a surprising choice with universal appeal, judging by the crowd's enthusiastic response.

Swiss-born French trumpeter Erik Truffaz and his quartet began the concert proper with a blast of jazz fusion energy. Truffaz acknowledges the influence of legendary trumpeter Miles Davis, but he has definitely found his own sound. The opening tune began with just electric piano and trumpet, before bringing in the rest of the rhythm section for a rock-influenced swing feel. An atmospheric rubato break went into almost psychedelic rock territory. Keyboardist Benoit Corboz favors processing his Fender Rhodes electric piano with electronic effects, producing more distinctive sounds than the generic ones common to most synthesizers, and Truffaz matched him here by playing his trumpet through a digital delay. Corboz played a lovely unmodified piano solo on the next tune, which also featured a groove-oriented solo from drummer Arthur Hnatek. Truffaz got the audience to clap along with the next tune, a rock feel with a pulsing "heartbeat" bass line from bassist Christophe Chambet. I think Truffaz announced the final selection with a dedication to the great Haitian revolutionary leader Toussaint L'Ouverture. It began with a Haitian konpas rhythm, eventually morphing into reggae. Intermission began with the capoeira demonstration (see the Slideshow on the first page for a photo).

Canadian vocalist Emilie-Claire Barlow was up next. An excellent singer and an engaging, outgoing performer, her set was characterized by very creative arrangements of a wide variety of jazz and popular songs. "Feeling Groovy" opened with a slow blues groove, then shifted into fast swing for guitarist Reg Schwager's fleet bebop solo. Lionel Hampton, Sonny Burke, and Johnny Mercer's "Midnight Sun" featured the first of many lyrical tenor saxophone solos from Kelly Jefferson, who was a consistent stand out even in the company of a razor-sharp band. "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever" employed an unexpected funk groove, with another great tenor sax solo, which cleverly merged into the melody at the end. Barlow explained that the arrangement had been inspired by a trip into the Arctic and the vast panoramas she viewed there. There were intimate moments as well: Jobim's "Waters of March" began as a duet with guitar, and Van Morrison's "Sweet Thing" (which Barlow introduced as a Morrison cover, but not "Moondance") was a duet with bassist Daniel Fortin. "These Boots Are Made For Walkin'" was another masterful bit of arranging and performing. The familiar tune went through multiple key changes before launching into a string of swing solos after Barlow's command to "start walking." "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" was performed as a samba (with a quote from Chick Corea's contemporary jazz standard "Spain"), and "The Beat Goes On" provided an unexpected, rousing set closer.

The opening concert of the festival is traditionally closed by the main festival headliner, a role admirably filled this year by the the great American alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett, who first came to prominence playing with trumpet legend Miles Davis. He has recorded in many jazz styles, but he began the set solidly in modern acoustic jazz territory, with an original tune based around a modal bass riff like the ones frequently employed by saxophonist John Coltrane. Tremendous energy from the entire band: the electricity in the air was palpable. A little ways into the set Garrett broke into an exciting unaccompanied series of saxophone cries—followed by a familiar tune which I could not place, which was not announced. But it was followed by the standard "Body and Soul," a favored saxophone feature ever since Coleman Hawkins' classic recording. At this point Garrett introduced the band: Vernell Brown, Keyboard; Holt Corcoran, bass; Samuel Laviso, drums; and Rudy Bird, percussion and vocals. All first-rate players, and they sounded like they have played together a lot. Bird proved to be an especially useful foil for the leader as the set went on.
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