Jazz en Folie at Mixed Notes Cafe

Two months after the First Annual Haitian Jazz Festival was held at SOB’s in Manhattan, it was Elmont’s turn to host the second major Haitian Jazz happening for the year in the New York metropolitan area. This event was held at the Mixed Notes Café, a well known Haitian restaurant and Jazz club.

Organizers Gladys Michele Lafond and legendary Konpa drummer Smith Jean Baptiste of Shleu-Shleu (both known for their involvement in the Annual Haitian Family Day) assembled a great cast of talented musicians who offered all in attendance a delightful night of music for their listening pleasure. They were Alix “Buyu” Ambroise, Katia “BabyKat” Cadet, Chardavoine and Ginou Oriol; with the participation of special guests Trumpet player Eddy Brisseaux, Guitarist Ricardo Franck (Ti Plim) and surprise performance by Sax player Jerry Weldon.

Even though it was an ambitious project, this happening was not aggressively advertised, probably because of the limited seating available in the restaurant. Nevertheless they had a great turnout; the place was packed and the atmosphere was charged even before the first music note was played.

Trumpet player Eddy Brisseaux opened the show with three pieces that truly represented his new musical philosophy of “Recreating Pangaea” this original land mass that existed before the continents started drifting apart. You can clearly see or rather hear the different elements he incorporates in his music, particularly from Europe, Africa and the Americas… he still needs to work on the Asian part though so that Pangaea can truly be reconstructed.

Next one in line was Ricardo Franck a.k.a. Ti Plim. With his signature moustache, this talented guitarist made a name for himself playing with the legendary Konpa band “Les Ambassadeurs”. I always thought that he had “reinvented” himself into a classical guitarist but last night I learned that he had started playing Jazz at the age of 12. So I guess it would be more fitted to say that the Haitian public “rediscovered” him under a new light after his career in Konpa had ended. He doesn’t like to be associated with a particular musical genre; in fact he refers to himself as a “manipulator of musical notes”. Last night he proved once again how he can make the simplest of melodies blossom under his hands.

Then it was the turn of Sax player Alix Buyu Ambroise and his Blues in Red band to take the stage. Since the release of his critically acclaimed album (Blues in Red) Buyu has been making a lot of noise in the Jazz world and has been invited to play all over. His last performance in Montreal where he shared the stage with Azor was a resounding success. I saw him play a couple of times during the past year and I have to say that last night one of the best performances I have seen from him so far. Maybe it was the intimate setting of Mixed Note Café, I don’t know but the band gave a very good performance last night. The addition of Traditional Haitian drummer Ti Ga has given a lot of depth to band for it uplifts and sustains the performance in a way that is difficult to express.

Buyu was a tough act to follow but Katia “Babykat” Cadet who was next is an experienced performer and it showed. Flown in from Montreal for the occasion, Katia is a soulful singer and songwriter who has collaborated with some of the biggest names in the music world; musicians like Stevie Wonder, Whitney Houston, Eric Clapton and Wyclef Jean with whom she shares lyrics credit for hit song “911”. Last night she dug deep into herself and offered the public an emotional performance with songs she had never sung live before. The texts were all very poignant especially the one she wrote while watching on TV a Haitian mother, a so-called “boat people”, diving into the ocean while holding her child, trying to get away from the US Coast Guard. The emotions were so well communicated to the public that a deep heavy silence sat on the audience during the performance, something a contrasted sharply with the roar of applauds which followed: brilliant performance.

Last night was a surprisingly special night. So much so that Tenor Sax Player Jerry Weldon, a Mixed Note Café regular who was adopted by the Haitian community, decided not to be left-out from this great happening. After consulting with Mozayik guitar player Eddy Bourjolly who also was in attendance and another saxophonist buddy of his who plays with Chardavoine he took to the stage and performed the Jazz classic “Autmn Leaves”. Weldon who is very well know in the Jazz World is a seasoned musician who has appeared with George Benson, Harry Connick Jr and Bobby Forrester to only name a few. Without doing too much, he added his touch to what was definitely shaping up to be a special night.

[Then, it was turn for my discovery of the night: Chardavoine. I had heard his CDs before but this was my first time seeing him live. From the moment the band started playing I was just blown away. His guitar sounded exceptionally clean last night, and let me tell you Mixed Note is known for the quality of its sound system. So if it sounded that good last night you can only imagine how it would have sounded in a venue with a top notch sounding equipment. The band comprised of experienced musicians who all had their moment to shine, gave a solid performance to say the least. Besides Chardavoine’s energetic guitar solos I was particularly captivated by the drum solos. This guy was sitting down chilling as nothing; still he was laying down these bad ass drum solos. At one point, for some reason, they lost power to the electronic piano; but guess what??? The band played on without missing a beat. The other musicians enhanced their performance to fill the void left by the “power failure”. If it wasn’t for the “commotion” on stage with the keyboard player and the sound guy trying to fix the problem you wouldn’t have even noticed that there was something wrong. After last night, I will definitely go buy Chardavoine’s latest CD entitled “fifth Season”.

Finally, to conclude this wonderful evening we were graced by the beautiful voice of Haitian American Jazz singer Ginou Oriol accompanied by the Chardavoine band. Ginou is one of the greatest Haitian Jazz vocalists alive today. And let me tell you, for a small woman, that lady can pack quite a punch with her strong powerful voice; in a small venue like Mixed Note she didn’t really need to use a mic. For years now Ginou has been bringing our culture to the world, even recording her last album entitled “Under a Spell” at the Kannabe Cultural Hall in Japan, with the participation of renown Jazz pianist Eddy Prophete and Japanese bassist Tasuhiko Kimura. She has even brought our music to Capital Hill in Washington D.C... So you can imagine, having her flying in from Miami was something special and she sure made all of us feel how happy she was to take part in last night’s celebration of Haitian Jazz.

After all that, I don’t think it is necessary to tell you that I had a wonderful time at Mixed Note Café last night. I would like to command organizers Gladys Michele Lafond of Gladys Creations and Smith Jean-Baptist of Smitty Boy Productions for their courage and their tenacity because even in a small scale such an even requires a lot. I would also like to thank them from the bottom of my heart for a wonderful evening and tell them that I can’t wait for the next one.

Once again last night was an occasion to prove that there is a market for Jazz in our community, that Haitians can appreciate and support Jazz. If any one entertained a doubt I hope that now it’s dissipated: Haitian Jazz carries a rich heritage dying to be displayed. Give the musicians an opportunity and they will make it worth your while.

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