Some of the best contemporary jazz out there is the result of two cultures, or two different genres of music, colliding. With drummer/composer Ches Smith and his new album Path of Seven Colors, I’m getting my first real exposure to Haitian Vodou music in my life. It’s a breathtaking sound, one that tilts closer to the African rhythms than the Latin ones, at least when compares to something like the Afro-Cuban movements in jazz over the years. Vodou has sounds that are familiar within the world of Latin jazz, but you’ll still think this is music that originates a few thousand miles to the east.
Pyroclastic Records has released this handsome mini-box set from Ches Smith and his octet, named We All Break, which includes the main album, Path of Seven Colors, and a bonus disc containing the 2015 debut album back when the group was a quartet. There’s also a link to a documentary on the making of this called “We All Break,” which will be available on the Pyroclastic Records website once the album drops. You also get two booklets containing all sorts of photos, commentary and even the lyrics in both English and Haitian Creole.
The music itself is exciting and vibrant, played by some very well-known musicians such as saxophone player Miguel Zenon, pianist Matt Mitchell, singer Sirene Dantor Rene, bassist Nick Dunston and three drummers–Daniel Brevil, Markus Schwartz and Fanfan Jean-Guy Rene. Well, four if you count Ches Smith.
What’s interesting about Path of Seven Colors is those frequent shifts in tone, mood and even culture, and it’s easy to streamline the Vodou elements and follow the polyrhythmic cues back to Haiti until Ches Smith doubles back on himself and sets these exotic folk stories into traditional jazz structures. That’s when you realize that these are jazz musicians who are merely hearing the music based on their own experiences, and there’s nothing calculated. It’s all coming from the heart. That’s why there are striking touches here and there, the way that Dunston becomes a fifth drummer at times because he’s flying so low, or the way that the Renes are both well-known in the Vodou world and can keep the finest touches genuine, or even throwing in such a master as Zenon, who just wanted to explore this world for a while.
As I said, I found this an exciting album from Ches Smith because it is so new, so fresh, and not anything I can pigeonhole. That’s all I need these days.