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Friday, June 11, 2021

Ches Smith We All Break - Path of Seven Colors (Pyroclastic Record, 2021) ****

By Kenneth Blanchard

All I know about voodoo I learned from Ben Fountain’s wonderful short story The Good Ones Are Already Taken. I recommend this collection of stories‑several of which are set in Haiti‑as companion material for Path of Seven Colors, coming out June 11 from Pyroclastic Records. Drummer and composer Chess Smith is the force behind We All Break, featuring features Matt Mitchell (piano), Miguel Zenón (saxophone), Nick Dunston (bass), Sirene Dantor Rene (lead vocals), with Daniel Brevil, Markus Schwartz and Fanfan Jean-Guy Rene all on drums (Haitian tanbou) and vocals.

The recording is a persuasive blend of hard bop lines with Creole chanting and traditional vodou rhythms. The latter constitute a cultural portfolio of historical and spiritual horizons. Combining them with romantic jazz narratives allows the vodou rhythms to penetrate the heart of someone who has no direct connection with the Haitian story time. I am not claiming that such a person has any authority to speak about or interpret this tradition. I am only speaking about its effect on such a person.

Fortunately, very elaborate notes are available, including translations from the creole. The first piece, woule pou mwen, ties into very recent Haitian politics. It begins with a piano and cymbal setting, with only a subtle rattle to warn you of what is coming, at about twenty seconds in. It helps if you have the lyrics before you precisely because it allows you to see that no written script can do justice to the voices, to the magnificent way that liquid consonants pop into four-dimensional kinesis in this singing.

The second piece, here’s the light, is my favorite. Here the drums seem only the natural grass over which Miguel Zenón’s horn establishes a steady pace. I cannot do better than this from the notes:

The rhythm is Yanvalou, one of the most well-known in Haiti, played in any Vodou Asogwe ceremony honoring the spirits of Rada (from Allada—the ancient kingdom of Dahomey, modern day Benin). Each section of the composition works around a classic Port-au-Prince-style bass line, with a melodic/harmonic conception that borrows from Ornette Coleman.

Now the horn, now the chorus. Now the piano, now the chorus. All the while, persistent bundles of percussion.

If you don’t like African drums and vocals, this is not for you. If you want to walk as many landscapes as you can give it a listen. If you want to see how well jazz can accommodate and mine other, related traditions or, if you just want some inventive and wonderful music, give this one a listen.


Captain Hate said...

I saw Ches with Michael Formanek's Elusion Quartet touring to promote Time Like This. He was pretty friendly to talk with as he was packing up his kit. I mentioned his playing the Haitian tanbou on Zorn's In a Convex Mirror and his face perked up. He mentioned a new project he was working on that was surely this.

Tony Simon said...

Really loving this one! The rhythms, melodies, emotions, and unique combination of much to absorb here, and I haven't even read the album notes yet! Appreciate your review!

Ken Blanchard said...

Thanks much to CH for the perfect historical note. I am looking up your references now! Thanks to TS. We agree completely.