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.

Having won the audience over with mainstream jazz, the rest of the show went in a more populist direction, which is also a long-time aspect of Garrett's music. The soul jazz of "Do Your Dance!" (also the title tune of his 2016 Mack Avenue album) included vocals, as well as another exuberant unaccompanied saxophone solo. During the funk tune that followed it Garrett was able to engage the audience in both clapping and singing along. But the tour-de-force of showmanship came during the funk encore. The band members left the stage one by one, leaving the leader alone, finally as a human beatbox. The man had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand. As he left the stage he mentioned how glad he was to have made it to the festival: he had been forced to cancel his appearance on the opening night of the festival's tenth anniversary in 2016. I think I can speak for the entire audience when I say it was worth the wait.

January 21, 2018

Leila Pinheiro/Réginald Policard/Dominique Di Piazza

The Sunday night show began with veteran Brazilian vocalist/pianist Leila Pinheiro in her duet project with guitarist Nelson Faria, collectively called Céu e Mar (Sky and Sea). They were warmly received by the large Brazilian cohort in attendance when they took the stage. Their set was a rich blend of bossa nova and jazz standards, made fresh by their creative partnership. "Girl From Ipanema" has become a bit overplayed in the U.S.—even having cocktail lounge associations—but it's a beautiful tune when played well. It also has a different sound when sung in the original Portuguese, as most of these songs were. Pinheiro switched to electric piano for the Duke Ellington classic "(In My) Solitude." Later she sang "Ole Devil Called Love" in English, in honor of singer Billie Holiday. Faria was a sensitive accompanist throughout. When he finally played an unaccompanied solo it concluded with a sly introduction to the bossa nova classic "O Barquinho," their closing selection. A fine ending to a performance both classy and classic.

The intermission music was supplied by the Ra Ra band Follow Jah, a bande à pied or walking band (marching band in common English usage) that has been performing at the festival since 2012. They provide a literal blast of high energy every time they perform.

Pianist/composer Reginald Policard was the first Haitian musician on the main stage. Founder of the well known Caribbean Sextet, he has also been associated with konpa, fusion, and even smooth jazz. But the music he played on this night was firmly in the modern jazz tradition, with a healthy dose of Latin jazz for spice. During the opening tune his piano recalled the thunder of McCoy Tyner. He definitely has a musical sense of humor as well, as demonstrated by his "Peanut Vendor" quote in a later tune. That original had a fast, irregular rhythm, with space for a saxophone/drum duet, a bass/drum duet, and finally a drum solo. Policard called up his young trumpet guest Maxime Lafaille, an excellent player who led a band later in the week at an After Hours show, as well as a frequent jam session participant all week long. Then Leila Pinheiro joined him on stage to sing Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Corcovado" ("Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars")—the kind of guest performance that can only happen at a festival like this. It was a very good night for Jobim, which makes it a very good night, period.

Intermission included a Brazilian dance exhibition as well as more Ra Ra.

The brilliant French bass guitarist Dominique di Piazza closed out the night on a much more contemporary note. Best known for his playing in guitarist John McLaughlin's band, his own group was also in the jazz fusion camp. The electronic sound was apparent right from the start, with reed player Stephane Chausse playing an atmospheric introduction on EWI (Electronic Wind Instrument), as he did for much of the set. At the end of the tune (back-announced as "New Life") the EWI switched to a violin sound. For "Desillusion" Chausse switched to clarinet—the only other instrument he played during the set—and the leader took his first bass solo, which was melodic and guitar-like. When Di Piazza finally took an unaccompanied solo, it was a version of the hymn "How Great Thou Art," a performance that was both soulful and jaw-droppingly technical. The band went into a fast Bulgarian-sounding tune, which had bass, clarinet and piano doubling the melody. The drum solo featuring drummer Yoann Schmidt was simply astonishing: one of the scariest demonstration of chops that I have ever seen. That was true of the whole band in the end. The restraint shown building to their technical peak was one of the most impressive things about their set.

January 22, 2018

Emilie Claire Barlow/Marialy Pacheco & Joo Kraus/Rutshelle Guillaume

The move to Universite Quisqueya and free admission signaled a larger, more diverse audience. Canadian vocalist Emilie-Claire Barlow opened the concert with a shorter set similar to the Saturday show. Several songs were cut for time, but there was one addition. The samba "O Pato (The Duck)" first popularized by Joao Gilberto presented the opportunity for audience sing-along on duck quacks and laughs, which was obliged with enthusiasm. "The Beat Goes On" again closed the set, a success with this audience as it had been with the more elite crowd at the earlier concert.



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