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

Mark Sullivan By

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Pianist Marialy Pacheco was born in Cuba, but now lives in Germany, as does her playing partner trumpeter Joo Kraus. Pacheco is a gifted pianist with a stylistic range that extends into earlier jazz forms. "Tres Linguas" was a Cuban tune with a ragtime feel. Her version of Mercer Ellington's "Things Ain't What They Used to Be" was played as a slow drag blues. Trumpeter Kraus just plain brought the fun: an irrepressible, surprising player. He accompanied Pacheco with vocal percussion; performed a whistling solo on the Ellington tune; and on her original tune "Metro" (about the slow public transport in her native Cuba growing up) he played trumpet into a digital delay unit, following that up with delayed vocal sounds. Another example of intimate music played successfully on a large stage to an outdoor festival crowd.

The concert concluded with Haitian vocalist Rutshelle Guillaume, whose music was clearly very popular with the crowd. It was a big pop/rock production, complete with four backup singers. "Victorious" was a soft rock anthem; "Je Suis" brought the funk. After another power ballad the unmistakable sound of East African soukous guitar came in, prompting me to stop taking notes and dance. Certainly not jazz, but a fun way to end the evening.

Sidebar: Education & Outreach

The festival (and the Haiti Jazz Foundation which operates year-round) offers a number of workshops over the course of the festival. This is part of the Foundation's mission, which they define as: "Promote musical activities around country, especially through the annual Port-au-Prince International Jazz Festival; Provide access to continuing professional music education in Haiti; Preserve Haiti's musical heritage; and Serve as a platform for the diffusion, evolution, and promotion of kreyòl jazz in Haiti and abroad."

Workshops/Master Classes were given by American saxophonist Kenny Garrett, French bassist Dominique Di Piazza, Canadian singer Emilie Claire Barlow, Brazilian guitarist Nelson Faria, Canadian/Haitian singer/guitarist Wesli, American singer Loide Rosa Jorge, Spanish guitarist Josemi Carmona, German singer Marialy Pacheco & trumpeter Joo Kraus, Chilean guitarist Nicolas Vera, the Belgian Giuseppe Vogue Trio, the French/Swiss Erik Truffaz Quartet, Swiss organist Frank Salis, and finally American guitarist Norman Brown. There was also a touching Conference on Herby Widmaier, the influential Haitian jazz musician and radio personality who passed just after last year's festival.

I was able to attend the Norman Brown workshop (see the Slideshow on the first page for a photo). The effusive guitarist was free with both his playing and his answers to questions about his career and musical technique. He began by playing unaccompanied, chord melody style, before being joined by guest piano and electric bass. His formative influences (in order) were Jimi Hendrix, Wes Montgomery, and George Benson—all illustrated by trademark guitar sounds. He spoke at length about his practice routines, both while studying as a student and now to maintain his edge. When asked how he escaped the George Benson comparisons, he said the main way was by writing his own music (which Benson does not do): this is how he found his own voice. He and his partners improvised a piece on the spot, with Brown demonstrating his way with a melody. "We're writing a song" he said at one point.

There are also a series of regular music classes at educational partner Collège Catts Pressoir (whose student big band had played before the opening night concert). The Foundation sponsors them "to give back, to help motivate and develop the skills of young musicians: the next jazz generation."

January 23, 2018

Felipe Lamoglia/Loide Jorge & Jazz Quartet/Wesli

Saxophonist Felipe Lamoglia was born in Cuba, but now lives in the United States. He came to join trumpeter Arturo Sandoval's band, playing with him from 2001 to 2009, and contributing to 2008's Grammy-winner album Rumba Palace (Telarc, 2007). He was joined by a group of Haitian musicians, including festival organizer Joel Widmaier on percussion. The group opened with a Latin tune, Lamoglia immediately impressive. The Yoruban tune "Esta Valejo" included an exciting section of the drums and percussion trading fours. The Latin standard "Besame Mucho" was taken at ballad tempo, with an acoustic piano solo and an especially lyrical bass solo. Lamoglia introduced his tune "Enigma" as "crazy." Not so crazy to my ears, but it did include an elaborate, serpentine head. For the finale he led the audience in a clave clap-along. After the tune segued into a swing feel Lamoglia played an uninhibited duet with Widmaier's percussion. It's the kind of playing also heard from him all week at the after hours jam sessions.

Loide Jorge and her Jazz Quartet represented the United States, but she was born in France of African parents. Her version of "The Dance is Over" showed a definite soukous influence. The subject of her original "Seven Days to Fall in Love" was in the title, and she followed it with Jobim's bossa nova classic "Corcovado" (known in English as "Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars," which were the lyrics she sang). "Daddy Remember Me" was about families being separated in Soweto; "Don't Forget" had a similar theme, about not forgetting where you are from. "In Time" was about healing, with a South African groove.

Wesli (a Haitian singer now living in Canada) closed the show with another crowd-pleasing set of dance music. Konpa, reggae and rock were all represented, with a soukous influence also in evidence. His lead guitarist had some serious rock chops, and Wesli himself began one tune unaccompanied on nylon string guitar. Once again I found the set was best appreciated by dancing to it.

January 24, 2018

Javier Colina & Josemi Carmona/Frank Salis H3O/Johnbern Thomas

Spanish Flamenco musicians Javier Colina (contrabass) and Josemi Carmona (flamenco guitar) were joined by a drummer/percussionist for a varied set. After a traditional fiery flamenco opener, the second tune was more contemplative, recalling Ralph Towner's classical guitar playing, and also featuring a beautiful melodic bass solo. Colina back-announced it as "Muñequita Linda," explaining that he would be announcing in Castialian, appropriate to the Spanish music they were playing. Colina again took the spotlight on the next tune, playing the opening theme unaccompanied (later accompanying a drum solo). Carmona departed from tradition by opening the next tune with a looper. Called back for an encore—a rarity in a festival that tries to stay on schedule—the group responded with a lovely version of "Moon River."

Swiss organist Frank Salis brought the funky organ trio blues with his H3O trio. It was a real blast of old-school energy, and certainly proof (if any is still needed) that jazz is definitely an international language. After a blues ballad (with a long unaccompanied organ solo that was unfailingly interesting), Salis introduced his band mates, saxophonist Marco Nevano and drummer Marton Kiss . The next tune featured a boogaloo beat, and gave Nevano an unaccompanied saxophone break and Kiss a big drum solo spot, which they both made the most of. The trio took their leave after one more down and dirty blues.

Haitian drummer Johnbern Thomas brought a big group for his Haitian-jazz fusion. In addition to two percussionists, guitar and bass guitar he was joined by Americans pianist Aaron Goldberg, saxophonist Godwin Louis, and trumpeter Darren Barrett. They began with a konpa beat with just the drums and percussion, before moving into a swing feel with the whole band. The second tune started with unaccompanied piano from Aaron, whose energetic, uninhibited playing was a highlight throughout the set. "Homeland" featured vocalist Alexis Amis, while the cover of Stevie Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely" included a section with alto saxophone and trumpet trading fours, bebop-style. "Jou va jou vyen" visited South African township jazz territory, while "Scrapple From the Apple" recast Charlie Parker's fast bebop head with Latin syncopation, including a triple percussion solo. The set concluded with an old Latin standard (which reminded me of "The Peanut Vendor," but it wasn't that tune). An exciting set with a fascinating Haitian take on American jazz.

January 25, 2018

This concert was to be the final one at Universite Quisqueya. Chilean guitarist Nicolas Vera and the Nicolas Vera Trio got three tunes into their set before the skies opened—always a danger even during the dry season. Their set was cut short, and the rest of the show was cancelled. So the Belgian group Giuseppe Millaci & Vogue Trio did not get on stage this night, although they also had a performance scheduled the following night at the Institut Français. The Haitian group Strings was also cancelled, but made a surprise appearance later in the festival.

Heavy rains in Port-au-Prince create an immediate flood situation, as even major low-lying streets quickly disappear under several inches of water, the result of a combination of overbuilding on the hills and poor drainage. Traffic somehow finds a way to keep moving for the most part, and the problem drains away quickly, but it is a show-stopper (literally, in this case) while it is happening.

My day was largely devoted to a side trip to the coastal town Jacmel, so see the sidebar for more on that.

Sidebar: Jacmel

Jacmel is a port town on the south coast of Haiti, a favorite weekend getaway for Port-au-Prince residents. It has well-preserved historical French colonial architecture that dates from the early nineteenth century, and is known as an arts center: one of its nicknames is "City of Artists."

Our tour took us first to Bassin Bleu, a famous series of three deep blue pools linked by waterfalls (see the Slideshow on Page 1 for a photo). It takes a strenuous uphill hike to get there—which involves crossing over streams plus a bit of mild rock climbing—but the reward is gorgeous, untouched natural beauty.

Jacmel itself is full of distinctive architecture, and the Jacmel Arts Center is a visual feast, inside and out (see the Slideshow for a photo).

This year PAPJazz organized a satellite Jacmel festival. One concert featured the Frank Salis H3O trio and Erik Truffaz; the other had Loide Jorge and her Jazz Quartet.

January 26, 2018

Ingrid Beaujean/Frank Salis H3O/Loide Jorge & Jazz Quartet/RAM

Friday night is always celebrated with a free outdoor concert at Place Boyer in downtown Port-au-Prince. Mexican singer Ingrid Beaujean (accompanied by electric guitarist Juan Jose Lopez) opened the show with a sweet song that included a guitar solo using a looper, the first of several very musical uses of electronic augmentation by the duo. Beujean sang "A Foggy Day in London Town" in English. Then after taking a scat solo, she accompanied Jose Lopez's chord-melody solo with finger snaps and a vocal high-hat sound. "El Perro" was introduced as a son from Oaxaca. Beujean crafted a beautiful multi-part vocal chorus with a looper, which she brought in and out during the song: it made a great accompaniment track for a guitar solo. The set ended with a lovely lullaby, the duo's intimate music making having completely won over the crowd.

Frank Salis returned with his H3O trio to bring the funky organ blues. This is music that is especially well-suited to a large open-air venue, and they did not disappoint.



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