The Power of Pauline Jean
From Lumane Casimir to Martha Jean-Claude, to Toto Bissainthe, to Emeline Michel, to Mélanie Charles, to Yanick Etienne, to Mélissa Dauphin, to Cecile Mc Lorin Salvant and to many more... All of them Haitian or Haitian-American female jazz singers who have burst onto the musical scene in the most impressive manner. And this list is not exhaustive, far from it! Each one of those I cited are tremendously talented and incredibly versatile. Pauline Jean is but one of the vivid expression of excellence in Haitian jazz. Her most recent release, “Nwayo” gives you quite a concrete example of her versatility..
While I had heard of her, I first had the opportunity to see her in concert with the Blues and Red Band under the direction of the great sax player, band leader, composer and arranger Buyu Ambroise. That was quite a treat and I immediately got hooked.
“Nwayo” showcases the powerful voice of a singer who is at ease singing any genre. The CD opens with “Rèv Pauline”, a song inspired by the great Haitian composer Ludovic Lamothe. With her powerful and accurate voice, Pauline Jean is supported by an excellent cast of musicians like trumpeter Jean Case, sax player Godwin Louis, drummer Obed Calvaire, pianist Alex Laugart, percussionists Markus Schwartz of Mozayik and Jean Mary Brignol and bassist Jonathan Michel. Pianist makes a scintillating solo by pianist Laugart followed by a wonderful dialog between Jean Case and Godwin Louis. Pauline Jean’s phrasing is just impeccable and at times reminds me of the legendary Carmen McRae.
Her interpretation of the famous tune “I’m in the mood for love” is most original and the solo by pianist Laugart is just excellent. It is a joy to listen to sax player Louis and trumpeter Case play. They are obviously having a lot of fun interacting on their instruments. The third tune “Anmwey” is also a remarkable tune. The lyrics as well as the arrangements are superb and the singer shows how good a writer she is and for a good reason. She says so herself in the liner notes: “Everything that you hear on this recording is coming from the innermost part of my being “. Nothing could be more accurate as the lyrics show. Listen for example to the treatment she and guitarist Eddy Bourjolly (from Mozayik) give to the traditional Haitian ballad “Ti zwazo kote ou prale”. The creativity in this arrangement is unique. She joins with sax player Godwin Louis and trumpettist Jean Caze in a most original dialog. Toward the end of the song, it is most enjoyable a joy to listen to her uttering the melody in unison with the trumpet, something Ella Fitzgerald used to love to do.
I should also bring attention to tune No. 7 “Their blood, Bondye”, a collaborative effort between Pauline Jean and Haitian writer Edwidge Danticat, a powerhouse in her own right in literature. You cannot listen to these lyrics and not be moved to the deepest of your soul. The haunting melody is greatly enhanced by the sensitive touch of Laugart on the piano and a wonderful arrangement throughout. The humming of the National Anthem by Jean Case adds to the poignancy of the lament. A real masterpiece!
The CD closes with another composition by Pauline Jean: “Kouto de bò”. Played on a furious rara beat, it shows once more the versatility of the singer. It is always interesting to listen to the marriage of jazz and Haitian rara, just like Bach seems to be the favorite of American jazzmen. You will not be able to sit still listening to this tune.
I do not know how well known Pauline Jean’s “Nwayo” is, but it certainly ranks as one of the best Haitian jazz CDs by a Haitian female jazz singer. Each one of the songs is a joy to listen to and I fully concur with her when she says: “The album highlights my growth, my confidence, my inspirations, influences, Haitian-American roots and my progression in life and music..”. I will be waiting for her next release with impatience.
Serge Bellegarde for Windows on Haiti – October 2017
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