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Jacques Schwarz-Bart: The Harlem Suite

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Jacques Schwarz-Bart: The Harlem Suite
Tenor saxophonist Jacques Schwarz-Bart has lived in Paris, Senegal, and Switzerland as well as his native island of Guadeloupe, but his 18 years in Harlem were crucial to his life and career. It was there that he found himself at an inflection point in the dynamic music scene of the late '90s, playing with such transformative visionaries as Roy Hargrove, D'Angelo and MeShell NdegeOcello.

With The Harlem Suite, Schwarz-Bart nods affectionately to that time and those figures while making a strong case for his own considerable powers of innovation and integration.

To confirm the seriousness of Schwarz-Bart's purpose, look no further than the personnel of the bands he assembled for this project. Four of the ten cuts feature a rhythm section that includes pianist Victor Gould and drummer Victor Gould while five others showcase Sullivan Fortner on piano and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington. Bassist Matt Brewer anchors both bands, a virtual fantasy lineup of improvising heavyweights,

Establishing the setting from the jump, Schwarz-Bart sprints into the "Giant Steps"-influenced harmonic labyrinth of "Sun Salutation" like a cab darting into rush hour traffic on Amsterdam Avenue. Yoga should not be done at this caffeinated pace. Another acknowledgement of John Coltrane arrives with Schwarz-Bart's arrangement of "Equinox," which scrambles Coltrane's blues form by adding a J Dilla drag—and an extra beat—to the rhythm.

Schwarz-Bart honors Harlem's jazz heritage on "Twisted," not the Lambert, Hendricks & Ross vocal hit, but an original that alternates between 4 and 5 with a tenor solo by the composer slyly hinting at Eddie Harris and the swagger of the classic tenor giants. Betty Carter takes a bow on Richard Rodgers' "Look No Further," based on the arrangement documented on Inside Betty Carter (United Artists, 1964). Vocalist Stephanie McKay and Schwarz-Bart negotiate Carter's jumpy, start-and-stop rephrasing of the melody like a two-horn bebop front line. The saxophonist quotes "Parisian Thoroughfare" for extra emphasis at the start of his solo.

But New York jazz is just one leg of the saxophonist's musical journey. His arguably better-known role as a charter soulquarian is represented by the balmy, head-nodding "Ambrosia" and a cover of Herbie Hancock's Headhunters-era "Butterfly" with vocals by Montrealer Malika Tyrolien and a bejeweled Rhodes solo from Fortner.

Old and new, pop and jazz, come together on Schwarz-Bart's "Central Park North" and reach an apotheosis of sorts with "Time Travel," a tropical-scented original with a strong piano solo from Gould and forthright, interactive timekeeping by Brewer.

Yet the emotional center of the 58-minute hommage comes with the penultimate "From Goré to Harlem." It begins in stately, almost reverent fashion then devolves into a darkling maelstrom, the terror of the Middle Passage in sound, before landing on new shores with an eloquent Fortner solo that ends in measured optimism.

The concluding "Dreaming of Freedom," recorded with a European band, finds a measure of hope in McKay's ascending melody. It's a benediction, albeit one that comes with a sobering note of ambivalence and ends on an unresolved cadence. For a cosmopolitan such as Jacques Schwarz-Bart, the ending of the hero's journey is yet to be written.

Track Listing

Sun Salutation; Butterfly; Twisted; Ambrosia; Equinox; Central Park North; Time Travel; From Goré to Harlem; Look No Further; Dreaming of Freedom.

Personnel

Jacques Schwarz-Bart
saxophone, tenor
Additional Instrumentation

Victor Gould: piano (1, 5, 7, 9); Sullivan Fortner: piano (2-4, 6, 8); Grégory Privat: piano (10); Matt Brewer: bass (1-9); Reggie Washington: bass (10); Marcus Gilmore: drums (1, 5, 7, 9); Terri Lyne Carrington: drums (2-4, 6, 8); Arnaud Dolmen: drums (10); Malika Tirolien: vocals (2); Stephanie McKay: vocals (9, 10).

Album information

Title: The Harlem Suite | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Ropeadope

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