Andrew Cyrille and Haitian Fascination - Route de Fra Res (2011)
Brooklyn-born to Haitian parents, drummer Andrew Cyrille had gone on to record with Mary Lou Williams, Coleman Hawkins and Roland Kirk before beginning a decade-plus stint in Cecil Taylor's band during some of Taylor's most creative periods. Cyrille's legacy only grew further as a leader and co-leader of groups that included the likes of Billy Bang, David S. Ware, Milford Graves and Rashied Ali.
After a five decade career that put him in the elite among drummers of modern and free jazz, Cyrille is looking back. Not at his career, mind you, but the heritage of his parents. Having visited Haiti himself for the first time at the age of seven, Cyrille has decided it was time to make music that honored the music of this Caribbean nation and thus formed a band, Haitian Fascination, to carry out his ideas. The first product of this special ensemble is Route De Frères.
Reflecting Cyrille's desire to bring Haiti to jazz, he surrounded himself with musicians who understood both and/or, at least, understood Cyrille. double bassist Lisle Atkinson has played with Cyrille since the 1960s and along the way, he's worked with Nina Simone, Betty Carter, Benny Carter, Dizzy Gillespie and Wynton Kelly. The baritone saxophonist Hamiet Bluiett made his mark performing with Charles Mingus, Abdullah Ibrahim and Sam Rivers, and co-founded the World Saxophone Quartet. Alix Pascal is a native Haitian who moved up to NYC and made his mark starting the Haitian/modern jazz group Ayizan. Percussionist Frisner Augustin also hails from Haiti and has likewise championed the music of his homeland in New York, most notably as the artistic director of the La Troupe Makandal Haitian music and dance company out of Brooklyn.
If you're not familiar with Haitian music, you might be struck by how such joyful music can originate from a land that has seen so much tragedy. Nonetheless, it's island music" by way of it's breezy cadences and African-derived rhythms. The Port-Au-Prince/New York hybrid fits together so naturally because, well, these are great musicians. Bluiett and Cyrille built their reputations on being versatile and pragmatic, skills they serve them so well on this record. Atkinson is steady as surgeon, providing unwavering bass patterns that Cyrille and Augustin can create lively rhythms around.
Augustin also provides vocals in the native tongue for the traditional Haitian song Marinèt" and Ti Kawòl," adding cultural spice to these tracks. Bluiett's big, gregarious sax adds a counterweight to Pascal's light, no-nonsense acoustic guitar on numbers like Pascal's Deblozay" and Cyrille's Hope Springs Eternal" an opulent melody, which only needed Pascal's guitar to bring out its beauty. Bluiett's frictionless baritone is like a pat of butter on this delectable pastry. Spirit Music" (Youtube below) is an organic trance set up by Atkinson's cyclical pulse, fleshed out by Cyrille and Augustin and articulated by Bluiett and Pascal. Atkinson bows his bass for the avant-garde Sankofa," the stormiest track of this set. Cyrille has done percussion duos with Graves back in the 1970s and he does so again on Mais," a hip-shaking pairing with Augustin.
The centerpiece of the record is Cyrille's three part Route De Frères" suite. Each project different moods: Hill Of Anjubeau" is festive, rich, robust like the sights and sounds of the Haitian countryside. The relaxed, jazzy strut of Memories of Port-au-Prince" is intended to resemble ambling through the streets of the nation's capital city. Manhattan Swing" is also jazz, but in a more metropolitan way, intended to resemble the bustle of New York as Cyrille's parents might have experienced it when they first arrived from Haiti in the 1920s.
Andrew Cyrille's fascination with Haitian music, bolstered by a healthy dose of Cyrille's extensive jazz legacy and a well-chosen lineup, makes Route De Frères a welcome new front in an already significant and storied career.