Ancestral Memories (Okeh Records)
Yosvany Terry / Baptiste Trotignon
Released in 2017
DownBeat Five-Star Review
Ancestral memories… Those of our own history, that of our collective unconscious. As is often the case in music, this album came about following a meeting of musicians. I was already familiar with Yosvany’s music but we had never met. So when he called me in 2014 I was immediately enthused by the thought of sharing our cultures and history to produce a new musical blend full of meaning and reflecting our desire to create. Combining our strengths, our desires, and even our weaknesses (it is these that, I believe, add a touch of fragility and sensitivity to the emotions we try to get across) was a great source of happiness when we were looking into putting a repertoire together.
We delved into the musical traditions of former French colonies (Haiti, Cuba, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Réunion, etc.) and tried to figure out how to integrate this material into a modern and contemporary jazz quartet. Learning has always been a driving force in my journey as an artist and I have always prefered to consider myself as an eternal student more than a simple teller of temporary truths.
This research came more naturally to Yosvany who was born and grew up in Cuba, a country which offers a wealth of ancestral traditions. As well as playing North American jazz wonderfully well, his work, whether in his playing or his composing, is also infused with “classic” European music, considered intellectual music, so our meeting was stimulating to say the least. The term intellectual as we would normally understand is rather odd since the rhythms of African cultures and of the thousands of musics inspired by them around the world are infinitely more sophisticated than the ones used in most European musics!
During our research phase I remained very humble and open to advice with regard to my abilities in integrating this music, which are not “genetically” natural to me. The first time we met, Yosvany played me a clave with a spoon and an old frying pan from my kitchen, and it was a gentle reminder that I still had some way to go! We wanted the music on this album to be generous, warm, languorous, violent like in spiritual island trances, and gentle like children’s nursery rhymes, all while trying to blend the sophistication of language with dance – ancestral source of energy.
Baptiste Trotignon (April 2017)
In addition to his considerable gifts as a composer and master practitioner of the alto and soprano saxophone and the chekeré, Yosvany Terry knows how to apply his exceptional leadership and organizational skills to create contexts in which to coalesce his polymath musical interests, which encompass an array of Cuban and pan-Caribbean folkloric traditions, a command of the jazz timeline that spans Johnny Hodges to Henry Threadgill, and comprehensive training in the Euro-canon at Cuba’s rigorous music conservatories. For example, in September 2014, Terry received a grant from Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation and the French-American Jazz Exchange (FAJE), to collaborate with Parisian pianist Baptiste Trotignon, two years his junior. Their mandate, MAAF stated at the time, was to create “a new body of material inspired by the rich and diverse musical traditions that developed out of the African Diaspora in the United States and former French colonies in the Americas”. “I’d applied for this grant for a long time, but I didn’t know a French composer I felt completely confident to work with”, Terry recalls. An old friend from Cuba, bassist Felipe Cabrera—who played bass on Gonzalo Rubalcaba’s projects with Cuban musicians between 1985 and 1995 before emigrating to Paris, and plays in a quartet led by Argentine percussionist Minino Garay, Trotignon’s collaborator on the sparkling duo recital Chimichurri (OKeh, 2016)—suggested that Terry contact the pianist. “I knew Baptiste’s music and really like his compositions”, Terry says. “So I approached him, and he loved the idea. He’d been working with Minino on different musical traditions from Argentina, and checking out music from some of the former French colonies in Africa. Baptiste was equipped with everything required to understand and execute the concepts, and react to these musical traditions”. At the beginning of April 2015, Terry flew to Paris for a week during which the protagonists researched and discussed the musics of Guadeloupe, Martinique, Haiti and New Orleans. They spent the next six months composing together and separately, collaborating through emails and skyped compositional sessions. “This allowed us time to reflect and create a distinct repertoire that speaks to the aesthetics of the Antilles through our contemporary sound”, Terry says. “Since we’re not using the traditional drums, the idea was not to write music that sounds like it’s based on any of these traditions, but to address those traditions in the most contemporary way for a standard jazz quartet”.
They needed partners with a similar understanding of how to refract Caribbean rhythms, grooves and melodies into jazz expression. They recruited drum master Jeff Watts, Terry’s close friend and collaborator since the turn of the century, as comfortable “burning out” with Branford Marsalis as playing diasporic beats with the Fort Apache Band. Terry notes that bassist and composer Yunior Terry, his younger brother, “like me was born into the Afro-Caribbean musical traditions from Cuba”. At the beginning of October 2015, the band convened to rehearse and then to beta-test five compositions by Terry and five by Trotignon during a two-week tour that began on the West Coast and ended with four nights at Manhattan’s Jazz Standard. They reunited in early January 2017 at Brooklyn’s Systems II Studios for the session.
The proceedings open with “The Call”, by Trotignon, who emulates the African call-and-response tradition as expressed in music from Guadeloupe and Haiti. There follows the title track, by Terry, who drew inspiration from Guadeloupean and Martiniquean chants without creating a melodic correlation. “I wanted to celebrate all the voices of my ancestors and the voices of the African diaspora in the Caribbean”, Terry says.
Trotignon’s “Reunion” interprets a rhythm called maloya from the French island, Réunion, located off the Madagascar coast; his “Bohemian Kids” emulates Cuba’s Habanera rhythm; “Basta La Biguine” uses the sounds and rhythms of the percolating biguine dance music of Guadeloupe and Martinique; “Minuet Minute”, evocative of tumba francesa, imagines how a minuet might sound in the French colonial context. On “Erzulie”, named for the Haitian mother goddess of the ocean, Terry portrays “the dichotomy this deity embodies—feeding the community and being the guardian of the fishermen, but also becoming a violent storm”. After the solos, Terry incorporates an interlude based on an old Haitian chant “about people almost drowning in the middle of the ocean who implored the deity to save them, and were able to make it to the shore”. For “Hymn”, Terry draws on a Martiniquean chant sung to a drums-only backdrop, reharmonizing the melody “to transform it into something more open”. After the penultimate “The French Quarter”, which proceeds to a force-of-nature New Orleans second line, Terry presents the album-closing “Lost Souls”. “It gives voice to the souls of all the slaves who were lost in the Middle Passage”, he says. “It represents how chaotic it was to transport so many enslaved people from Africa to the Caribbean”. In a conversation for a 2014 article framed around the release of the Grammy nominated New Throned King, Terry told me that neither the project nor the ensemble that performed it could exist outside of New York City. He added that, by “living and participating in the mecca of music and the arts”, and digesting it in his own manner, he had arrived at his own sound and, paradoxically, moved closer to his roots. “It forced me to look more within myself, to state who I am and what I really think about music, about life, and my aesthetic perspective”, he said. Trotignon’s own immersion in the various cultural streams that feed Paris’ musical landscape plays no small part in his eloquent responses to the ancestral Antillean vocabularies addressed herein. That both still-young masters retain this “eternal student” attitude is a thing to be celebrated.
1. The Call 7:34
2. Ancestral Memories 5:38
3. Reunion 5:54
4. Bohemian Kids 4:31
5. Basta La Biguine 4:16
6. Erzulie 7:50
7. Minuet Minute 4:47
8. Hymn 8:06
9. The French Quarter 4:29
10. Lost Souls 6:41
Yosvany Terry: saxophones, chekeré
Baptiste Trotignon: piano
Yunior Terry: bass
Jeff “Tain” Watts: drums
Recorded January 2017, at Systems II Studio, New York,
Mixed by Max Ross,
Mastered by David Kutch
Jelly Roll Morton proclaimed that jazz must contain “tinges of Spanish” from the Caribbean. But on this propulsive and profound CD, the Cuban-American saxophonist-composer Yosvany Terry and the Paris-born pianist Baptiste Trotignon—inspired by the music of Martinique, Guadeloupe, Haiti, New Orleans and Cuba’s Oriente Province (where Terry’s grandmother is from)—show that jazz can swing with a French-Caribbean accent, too. Buoyed by Terry’s brother Yunior on bass and Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums, the leader’s piercing and poignant saxophone lines and Trotignon’s elegiac and engaging pianism imbue the album’s 10 selections with islandbreezed joie de vivre. The tracks range from the anthemic opener “The Call,” which soulfully syncopates with a 6/8 feel, to the finessed funk of Terry’s title track and “Lost Souls.” They’re contrasted by the medium-tempo musings on Trotignon’s “Reunion,” named after a French island in the Indian Ocean; the impressionistic ballad “Hymn”; and the equally sensitive “Bohemian Kids,” with Terry playing like Sidney Bechet on soprano. Trotignon’s “Basta La Biguine” is a festive, calypso-like send-up of Cole Porter’s “Begin The Beguine.” On “Erzulie,” titled after the Haitian goddess of love and prosperity, Watts, the most valuable player of these sessions, morphs, transforms, states and counter-states all of the rhythms and grooves of the Afro-Caribbean diaspora.
Eugene Holley Jr (DownBeat)