Jacques Schwarz-Bart Concludes Off Jazz with a Dive Into Harlem

by Michel Labrecque

The closing concert of the Festival OFF Jazz de Montréal, on October 14 at Studio TD, left us satisfied. Jacques Schwarz-Bart, the immense Guadeloupean musician-turned-American, delivered a performance inspired by his latest album, The Harlem Suite. With the invaluable assistance of Montreal-based Guadeloupean singer Malika Tirolien.

Jacques Schwarz-Bart wears many hats: he contributed to the jazzification of gwoka, the traditional music of Guadeloupe; he has also worked with many “neo-soul” artists such as D’Angelo, Erykah Badu and trumpeter Roy Hargrove; today, he is a professor at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston.

The Harlem Suite is a vibrant tribute to Harlem, the New York neighbourhood where Schwarz-Bart lived for almost two decades. The emblematic neighbourhood of the black community and its culture for over a century. This album is more jazz-oriented than the Guadeloupean’s other creations.

The concert began with a deluge of notes, on an ultra-fast rhythm. In addition to Schwarz-Bart, the quartet included three of his Berklee students, Ian Banno on bass, Hector Falu Guzman on drums and Domas Zerosmskas on piano. Promising, impetuous youngsters who demonstrate the excellence of this musical college.

We’ve heard covers of Herbie Hancock’s “Butterfly,” Betty Carter’s “Look No Further” and John Coltrane’s “Equinox,” formidably reinvented by Jacques Schwarz-Bart and his musicians. All these covers appear in The Harlem Suite.

Malika Tirolien is an exceptional and innovative singer! The singer with American bands Bokanté and Snarky Puppy can take us into musical stratospheres. She’s brilliant.

But it was really with compositions by Jacques Schwarz-Bart that the concert reached its zenith. From Gorée to Harlem, evoking the African presence in Harlem, and the jazz tribute to Roy Harper gave us moments where emotion joined musical complexity.

The icing on the cake: our man speaks French, of course, and talks at length about the spirit of his compositions, while updating us on the state of racism in the United States. The man studied political science in Paris and knows how to analyze life in his host country.

The concert rounded off the Off Jazz Festival in style. The Festival also crowned local band BellBird as a promising newcomer.

The festival demonstrated the strength of local jazz in all its forms.

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