Originally published in Haiti Liberte, September 22, 2010
by Prince Guetjens, translation from French to English by Isabelle Barrière
The American drummer Markus Schwartz has just released his second CD (["Equinox" by] Markus Schwartz & Lakou Brooklyn). It contains six titles including five traditional Haitian songs ("Yanvaloux", "Seremoni Tiga", "Cecia", "Gede Drum-n-Bass") and a remake of "Equinox" by John Coltrane. The arrangements and the recordings are realized by Markus and the musicians accompanying him, namely Jean Caze (trumpet, flugelhorn, voice, conch shell), Monvelyno Alexis (electric guitar, voice, percussion) and Paul Beaudry (acoustic bass, percussion).
The CD is presented in a very discreet stamp. The "Unkown Marroon" (Le Marron Inconnu) wrapped in the bicolor blue and red flag - a strong symbol of Haitian Resistance - against a black background is a way for Markus & Lakou Brooklyn to claim with these six titles a place on the top of the world musical scene with a beat grounded in Haitian Music. It is one of the two best artistic works of the year in the Haitian community in New York. By this I do not differentiate between a CD, a painting, a sculpture, a movie or a ballet, without trying to establish any comparison.
Most of the songs recorded on Markus' CD come from the vast Haitian musical repertoire. Although other musicians have interpreted them with different arrangements, it is as if one is hearing them for the first time. They are characterized by a rare lightness and elegance.
This CD has benefited from the talent and skills of Markus and three exceptional musicians: the reputable trumpetist Jean Caze, the singer and guitarist Monvelyno Alexis who has just released his own first album and Paul Beaudry who plays the acoustic bass with a mesmerizing dexterity.
In contrast to most percussionists who belong to the Haitian Vodou tradition, Markus Schwartz' performance is quiet and subtle. Under his finger, the drum changes mood according to the styles of the arrangements. Markus does not behave like the player of an instrument in the middle of the desert who attempts to be heard by the residents of the neighboring city. His approach is that of a mature musician who considers the roles assigned to each instrument in the musical arrangement. Under his palms, the difference between this instrument considered exotic and the spatial organization of the scores blur. He is conscious of the fundamental role of the drum in a musical piece and especially in the ancestral musical legacy that he is transmitting. And he does not hesitate to break with the traditional linear rhythm in order to enrich its fabric.
Situated in the center of a piece of music produced by four or five instruments that play simultaneously, where there is no place for redundancy, the drum emerges like the moon and leaves enough space for each instrument to do the same. Each instrument and the role it contributes are easy to identify.
Markus' performance is fluid and devoid of the embellishments that sometimes make popular (Vodou) Haitian music heavy. His simple touch that is a sure sign of an accomplished dexterity, reminds the listener of that of Jean Raymond Giglio, one of the best Haitian drummers in the last twenty years. Markus has retained the essence of the training he received, while studying drum and traditional songs with the musicians and the disciples of the Lakou Vodou (Souvnans, Soukri, Badjo) in the Gonaives area of northern Haiti.
The music referred to as "roots" produced by musicians in the Haitian community in New York has been experiencing a difficult journey that is not going to end soon. This also applies to the Konpa Dirèk style and to Haitian Jazz that is emerging. The responsibility mainly lies in the inability of most musicians to integrate a world in which competition is fierce. Instead of practicing their instrument to face a market in which virtuosos are found at the cost of "buy one get one free", they bury themselves, in a past that is no longer relevant and that was never successful, to try to impress the youth with pompous speeches on a so-called "roots movement", closer to their grave each time.
In our opinion, ["Equinox" by] Markus Schwartz & Lakou Brooklyn constitutes one of the finest tributes to honor the memory of the Haitian composer and arranger Antalcidas Murat, who is considered the father of this indigenous music, created by the Jazz of the Youth (Jazz des Jeunes) in the mid-'40s in Haiti. Its liberating power fostered the "roots" music movement of the '80s and '90s.
Markus Schwartz & Lakou Brooklyn's CD is an absolute must have.