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Andrew Cyrille / Haitian Fascination: Route de Freres

Dave Wayne By

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Despite all of the cross fertilization that's taken place over the decades between the US and the various island nations of the Caribbean, it could be argued that the jazz world hasn't really dealt with the music of Haiti in any fundamental way. Andrew Cyrille—who's drawn on his Haitian heritage throughout his career as a solo artist and drummer for the likes of Cecil Taylor, David Murray, and John Carter—blends Haitian rhythms with jazz improvisation on Route de Freres.

Though Cyrille's deep understanding of both musical traditions goes a long way towards making this musical journey a success, it doesn't hurt that he's enlisted an all-star band to accompany him. Bassist Lisle Atkinson, founder of The New York Bass Violin Choir, has worked with Cyrille off and on since the mid-1970s. Baritone saxophonist Hamiet Bluiett cofounded both St. Louis' famed Black Artists Group (BAG), and the World Saxophone Quartet. Guitarist Alix Pascal and percussionist Frisner Augustin both occupy central roles in Haiti's popular music scene: known for his work with Tabou Combo, Pascal played on Cyrille's 1994 recording, X Man (Soul Note); Artistic Director for Haiti's Le Troupe Makandal, Augustin has recorded with Kip Hanrahan, one of a handful of American jazz artists who've explored Haiti's unique rhythmic heritage.

On Haitian Fascination, Cyrille uses a frontline of baritone sax and acoustic guitar, backed by intricate percussion arrangements, to create some truly unique music. Cyrille and Augustin work together so tightly that it's difficult to tell who's playing what, and Pascal's guitar brings in an unexpected, almost Moorish-sounding element. Yet, the focal point is Bluiett's baritone saxophone. On "Marinet," an adaptation of an old Haitian folk song, he charges in with a wall-shaking blast over the quietly bubbling percussion, before giving way to its lilting melody. Bluiett plays very sweetly on Cyrille's balladic "Hope Springs Eternal," with Pascal's guitar solo a model of simple, free-floating beauty.

Bluiett's "Isaura" is in a bag associated with David Murray—elegant and concise, but open-ended enough to invite extended improvisation, while "Sankofa"—the CD's most "out" piece—proceeds episodically, as thematic elements are interspersed with brief improvisational passages. Pascal's "Deblozay" is almost funky, buoyed by Atkinson's strong groove and the ever-simmering percussion; the melody is spare yet intelligent, and Bluiett's inside/ utside solo is a study in contrasts.

The centerpiece of Route de Freres is Cyrille's title suite, which comprises three compositions inspired by the experiences he had as a child, visiting his parents' native country for the first time. "Part 1—Hills of Anjubeau" has a super-catchy contrapuntal melody, played over a rhythm that suggests a fusion of calypso with African highlife music. The mellow, reflective "Part 2—Memories of Port-au-Prince Afternoons" features a fine solo by Pascal over a swaying Caribbean rhythm. "Part 3—Manhattan Swing" celebrates the arrival of Cyrille's parents in America, with a fond nod back towards more traditional jazz sounds. Bluiett once again demonstrates his vast stylistic range with a hard-charging Coleman Hawkins-inspired solo.

By contrast, "Spirit Music" draws on some of the more forward-looking elements in Cyrille's compositional bag while retaining a strong, and unmistakably Caribbean groove.

Title: Route De Frères | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: TUM Records


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