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It is no secret that the entertainment industry does not take a day off in the Big Apple. As such there seemed nothing unusual that the Haitian Jazz concert series at SOBs would schedule one of its monthly events on a Sunday. Atypical was the number of fans who admitted calling in sick to be present at this particular show. Such was the drawing power of Thurgot Theodat whose list of descriptions includes: Haiti's pioneer Roots Jazz saxophonist.

The electricity was palpable in the minutes before the band ascended to the stage. Contributing to this excitement was the presence of a who's who list of Haitian Jazz stars that included Buyu Ambroise, Jean Chardavoine, Markus Schwartz, as well as others such as King Kino, Richard Cave. These were just in the audience.

So by the time Thurgot took to the stage, the atmosphere was as dense as a tropical forest. That feeling was reinforced when Tiga slowly pulled a didjeridu to his mouth and breathed out a primal sound reminiscent of a thousand Haitian vaksins. His father Bonga joined in with staccatoed conga slaps that added fire to the gathering storm. As Chico Boyer bolstered the low end with long bass slides, Manny Lane, splashed the brewing concoction with a wash of cymbals. By then, Alex Jacquemain was clawing and scraping through his guitar, pulling out harmonics that twisted and curled around before being swallowed up by the thickening wall of sound. And right at the very top, one could hear Thurgot emitting bird-like squeals on the tenor, reminiscent of Archie Shepp.

This incantation to the primeval forces of nature lasted for almost three minutes before subsiding. The audience, as if in a trance, took a few seconds before coming back to its senses and then proceeded to clap. Soon after, the father-and-son percussive powerhouse started a Vodou Double Nago rhythm around which the band quickly coalesced. The majesty of the rhythm was paid due homage by Alex' winding guitar solo which eventually catapulted into rapid-fire angular patterns. To everyone's astonishment Thurgot subsequently indicated that it was his first time playing together with the young French guitar virtuoso, and this without a rehearsal.

Dilere was next on the set list. Manny Lane quickly settled himself on the Yaya Ti-Kongo rhythm and landed his snare on the third beat, a more fitting choice than the off beat that Sega Seck emphasized on this tune's CD version. At that point all remaining concerns evaporated and the audience knew that the music was in competent hands. After all Chico, Bonga, and Tiga have been accomplices of Thurgot for a combined average of two decades. As the petwo-related rhythm unfolded, Atibon was seen, arms flailing, dancing up and down the aisle. One could not help but remark that perhaps Haitians may bring dancing back to Jazz!

All throughout the remaining one-set performance Thurgot, as if possessed by the Gods that were invoked at the beginning, continuously reached deep into the bowels of his instrument to hack out buildups of notes that had been clogging his sax's airway, only to spit them out in a flurry that culminated in ecstatic wails. True to his avant garde influence he continuously channeled the likes of Anthony Braxton, John Coltrane and Joseph McPhee. On Mapassou, Thurgot stayed with the tenor sax instead of switching to the soprano he used on the CD. Nonetheless the angelic quality of the tune was left undiminished.

It would not be far fetched to say that Badji sounded better live. There was a higher overall sense of integration among the players' performances. No doubt the presence of Foula's old rhythm section played a major part. Particular notice was taken of Nono Alexis, a guitarist friend whom Thurgot called on stage for the last tune. He distinguished himself by being the one musician whose solo clearly highlighted the melodic sensibilities intimated by the rara rhythm.

There are always a few anomalies when a concert features such an extensive lineup of musicians on a Sunday night. For example, most of the audience was gone by the time Thurgot finished the last tune. It did not definitely help that so much time was allocated to Makarios Cesaire who no doubt is a great guitar player. However a front man is more than technical ability. One has to project a presence that truly connects with the audience. At one point, Papa Jube had to ask him to do something different as a Haitian, but Makarios was oblivious to such wise advice and went on curled down toward his guitar for what seemed a much too long practice session.

However he seemed to shine best while backing up other musicians such as Emeline Michel who was every bit of the talented diva that she truly is as she graced the audience with a selection from her latest CD. Makarios also accompanied Alan Cave on a rendition of La pèsonn, a song composed by his dad Syto Cave. It is going to be quite an uphill battle for Alan to achieve some level of legitimacy within the Haitian Jazz community. His decision to sing such a classic tune using a half-time framework was poorly informed at best and definitely not conducive to an eventual cross over from Konpa - assuming that was the intent.

The real surprise of the evening was Melanie Charles who opened the show and showed outstanding control and stage presence during a short set that started with the Haitian classic Roro. She played a mean flute and confidently conducted the band while singing through one of the most dynamic vocal pipes ever witnessed in such a young singer. Her brother who is only nineteen, whom she kept referring to as her "little brother", exhibited a level of mastery on the sax that one only expected from a seasoned player. The Charles family is to be watched closely as it is bound to make some serious noise within the Haitian Jazz community. Needless to say that you best show up when Papa Jube summoned you at SOBs for the next Haitian Jazz series event!

Max Lyncee,
For KariJazz
Monday, March 03, 2008

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