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Jacques Schwarz-Bart: The Harlem Suite

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Jacques Schwarz-Bart
Saxophonist Jacques Schwartz-Bart - Photo by Tom Wool

Jacques Schwarz-Bart makes yet another eloquent musical statement with his album The Harlem Suite right from the ever appropriate and vigorously ebullient opening, Sun Salutation, an incendiary take on Giant Steps and John Coltrane, who created that song.

Mr Schwarz-Bart makes it clear that he has – temporarily at least – put away his Guadeloupean state-of-mind on order to declare his abiding love for – and eminent understanding of – Harlem which lies at the heart of Black African American cultural topography, and at least part of the saxophonist’s own heritage.

Mr Schwarz-Bart’s playing is utterly brilliant throughout this repertoire. This is memorably expressed in the mighty gasps of air expelled from his lungs via his lips and moist reeds. In doing so Mr Schwarz-Bart seems to express a vivid physical engagement with his saxophones, deep emotion also wrought from notes and luscious phrases.

Jacques Schwarz-Bart: The Harlem Suite
Jacques Schwarz-Bart: The Harlem Suite

In each of the eight originals [and interpretations of classic songs] he engages us, his listeners, with elegant aggression. We cannot but fall prey to his irresistible charm as we feel the very physical pulse of his music.

On both Butterfly, a gorgeous chart by Herbie Hancock and Bernie Maupin, Mr Schwarz-Bart plays exquisitely elegiac lines as the inimitable Malika Tirolien flutters vocal wings through the lyric, almost matching the ethereal luminosity of the definitive vocal version [of Butterfly] sung by Gretchen Parlato on her disc Live in NYC [ObliqSound, 2018].

It is tempting to try and single out a song as the apogee of this album by Mr Schwarz-Bart, but that would be a proverbial exercise in futility. Better to be mesmerized by the breadth of Mr Schwarz-Bart’s musicianship and the manner in which he moves seamlessly between musical forms from the blues and other classic Black American rhythmic idioms, full of irrepressible and swing and dance.  

Cue the energetic bebopping fire of Sun Salutation which gives way to the dreamy elegance of Ambrosia and the bluesy Equinox by John Coltrane, leading to an oblique tribute to Trane on Central Park North. Then feel the visceral and screaming energy of free expressions that soon turn to elemental sadness in From Gore to Harlem, Mr Schwarz-Bart’s ode to the island of Gorée in Senegal, the gateway through which slaves were torn away from the bosom of Mother Africa.

Both the penultimate and the finale of the album feature songs sung by another spectacular vocalist, Stephanie McKay, whose gorgeous vocal leaps on Look No Further [by Richard Rodgers] match those of the saxophonist – note for note, phrase for phrase, one incredible leap after the other. And there could be no better display of musical erudition in the glimmering tenderness of the masterfully crafted finale Dreaming of Freedom, with luminous vocalise by Miss McKay.

None of this music would turn out as impressively executed as it does were it not for the inspired ensembles who translate Mr Schwarz-Bart’s vision into song. It’s clear that pianists Victor Gould, Sullivan Fortner and Gregory Privat, bassists Matt Penman and Reggie Washington, drummers Marcus Gilmore, Terri Lyne Carrington and Arnaud Dolmen and both the vocalists are all perfectly attuned to the leader’s artistry. Naturally this makes for a truly special album by an artist who is nearing the peak of his powers.

Deo gratis…

YouTube Playlist: Jacques Schwarz-Bart: The Harlem Suite

Music – 1: Sun Salutation; 2: Butterfly; 3: Twisted; 4: Ambrosia; 5: Equinox; 6: Central Park North; 7: Time Travel; 8: From Goree to Harlem; 9: Look No Further; 10: Dreaming of Freedom.

Musicians – Jacques Schwarz-Bart: saxophones; Victor Gould: piano [1, 5, 7, 9]; Matt Penman: contrabass [1 – 8]; Marcus Gilmore: drums [1, 5, 7, 9] Sullivan Fortner: piano [2 – 4, 6, 8]; Terri Lyne Carrington: drums [2 – 4, 6, 8]; Gregory Privat: piano [10]; Reggie Washington: bass [10]; Arnaud Dolmen: drums [10]; Malika Tirolien: vocals [2]; Stephanie McKay: vocals [9, 10].

Released – 2023
Label – Ropeadope [RAD 699]  
Runtime – 57:42

Based in Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

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