For obvious reasons, Haiti has been on the nation’s collective mind in 2010. Jowee Omicil, a jazz saxophonist of Haitian descent, celebrates his heritage on his sophomore album Roots and Grooves. While playing contemporary jazz, he also incorporates the sounds of Haiti, Africa, and Cuba in his rhythms.
Omicil originally wrote “4 My People” for the victims of the 2008 Haitian floods. He has rededicated it to the earthquake victims, and its deep bass-driven rhythm echoes the African descent of Haiti residents. “Wolé” mixes smooth jazz with a hip hop beat, segueing into a Latin tempo. Omicil’s soprano saxophone takes center stage on the track, with guest guitarist Lionel Loueke providing a solo that effectively complements the ever-changing rhythms and tone. The duo teams again on “Bee-Bop,” which approaches traditional jazz but still incorporates elements of the contemporary sound. In addition to playing soprano sax and clarinet, Omicil also scats over parts of the track.
An interesting song, “Micky’s Groove” salutes Compas music, a genre founded in Haiti. Introduced by Nemours Jean Baptiste, a saxophonist and bandleader, it fuses Haitian rhythms with Dominican Republic’s Tipico, or music dominated by saxophone and drums. Also incorporating Cuban elements, the music gained popularity in the 1950s, primarily through Baptiste’s additions of electric guitar, timbale, tom-toms, and cowbell (for more on Compas, visit the Haitian Music Industry’s website). Omicil dedicates the track to Compas maestro Michel Martelly, and arranges it “the way things were done back in the day—with just a little percussion, acoustic guitar and a backbeat.” The song serves as an introduction to this lovely music that conjures images of Omicil’s homeland.
Other standouts include “Min-Yo,” a song driven by exotic percussion, and “Wongol,” another example of Haiti’s sounds. Lead vocalist Emeline Michel provides a passionate vocal while delicate guitar, bass, and Omicil’s clarinet surround her voice. “Ayibobo” also salutes Omicil’s home, mixing African rhythm with hip hop elements like a turntable. He performs all other instruments on the track, and the dizzying tempo evokes images of dancing in the streets. Returning to modern sounds, “You Know That’s Right” crosses funk with hip hop to create a pleasant groove. Jazzy chord changes add to the song’s appeal.
One unusual track is the instrumental “CubhaTiando,” a nod to Haiti and Cuba. Instead of copying those rhythms, however, Omicil’s frantic tempos and complicated alto sax solos suggest free or avant garde jazz. “Mesi Bon Dié” features Loueke’s guitar, Patrick Andyantsialonina’s bass, and Omicil’s clarinet and soprano saxophone working in perfect synchronization with the Latin tempo. It makes for a beautiful,exotic tune that merges jazz with world music.
Smooth jazz fans should enjoy Omicil’s Roots and Grooves due to its uniqueness. His tracks encompass numerous genres, and are reflective of his world view. While he now resides in Canada, his Haitian heritage is clearly never far from his thoughts. Those who wish to learn more about Haiti’s musical roots, or just desire jazz with an exotic influence, should seek out Roots and Grooves.Powered by Sidelines