Thursday, 8 October 2015
Return to Haiti: 1978's L'Énergie Mystérieuse! - Une Révolution Dans La Musique Haïtienne Et Un Inoubliable Concert De Jazz
How many Widmaiers were there? Mushi was the genius behind our magnificent Kote Ou? wherein he was accompanied by brother Joel on percussion and vocals, but here we have a Herbie (or Herby as it's spelled on other records) singing. Well, it turns out this was the ultra-talented father, the original Brueghel as it were, and he was the preeminent Haitian musician of the day. Remember that throughout these years the country endured a "reign of terror" under "Papa Doc" Duvalier controlled by the bizarrely named Tonton Macoutes who terrorized the population (executing about 50,000 people). "Haitians named this force after the Haitian Creole mythological 'Uncle Gunnysack' bogeyman, who kidnaps and punishes unruly children by snaring them in a gunnysack (macoute) and carrying them off to be consumed at breakfast..."
But let's get to the good news of the music first, and the bad news later. Note the stunningly original electric piano chords on track A4 by a certain Gerald Merceron. His diatonic chord descending intro, with the polytonal figures, is bound to be sampled by some deejay somewhere, somehow, sometime very soon, I guarantee it... Listen to it, it's pure hoppin' genius:
Obviously, the bizarre subsequent melody sung by Herbie is equally worthy of mention and memorable in the extreme. It will take me days to digest what exactly he achieved in this utterly unique composition.
Track A6 (Benjamin - La Triste Découverte) brief as it is, features just a gorgeous minimalist sound; here we have the following team: on bass, Yves Lafontant, flute, Edgard Depestre, with son Mushi on electric piano, and on the violin, Fritz Benjamin. The latter weaves complex and intricate arabesques throughout the rich fabric of chords created by the deep and soulful piano on high reverb. What a sound! This rivals anything we have heard from any German or UK prog record.
On track A8, Pou Lanmò Pa Guin Priz Sou Lavi (L'énergie Mystérieuse) we even have RIO in the style of Julverne, with modern, quasi-atonal composition behind a soprano 'melody' sung by one Nicole Saint Victor. Wow!
Then the phenomenal and neverendingly blessed and blissful side A closes out with a relatively standard modal jazz tune with the angular saxes, diatonic major seventh chords, such as Chas. Mingus threw off by the dozens (not that there were many like him) in the seventies. Note the Brazilian influence, previously occult, here outwardly evident.
Sadly, the second side with Lee Konitz features somewhat conventional, routine and pedantic jazz and is completely uninteresting to me. Doesn't matter. Side A was worth buying a thousand times over and again. This the habitat for humanity that I would like to live in forever.
The back notes were written by Gerald Merceron, evidently also a luminary in the Haitian jazz scene, who mentions how he wished to preserve the work of Herbie Widmaier. It seems truly tragic that as G. says, he was unconcerned with fame or prestige and left very little for posterity. Btw Gerald's other record with Lee Konitz (from an unknown year) looks highly interesting, being called Modern Jazz Compositions from Haiti.
What about the bizarre black and white cover photo, presumably from the movie "Echec au silence" (i.e. defeat of silence)? Here is the only information I could find. In a small note at the start of this moving picture database that reveals that in the 28 years of the dictators "Papa Doc" and "Baby Doc" Duvaliers' years, only three films (!!) were produced in Haiti, mention is made of the first full length feature film shot: this work, from 1978, by Bob Lemoine, but it was never released... Such is the human tragedy of tyranny. Based on this cover I will hazard a guess that it was a surrealistic work along the lines of Luis Bunuel's wonderful art movies. But how great would it be for someone to dig it out of the vaults and finally let it be seen by the rest of the world???
And as I said in the entry on Kote Ou, the suffering for those poor Haitians is never ending. To this day, they live in utter poverty, and half of the aid promised by the rich countries after the devastating 2010 earthquake is still missing in action.... Of course, there are always more disasters that require more aid, cf. Syria currently, and the generosity of the West clearly has its limits... Those who have read the magnificent work by Jared Diamond on Collapse will remember how 98 percent of the forest that used to cover the island has been removed (due to poverty: for firewood in general) and has led essentially to ecological collapse, with desertification, erosion and flooding proceeding relentlessly, and the point is obvious: humanity as a whole is performing the same rape and pillage on the entire earth.
So how can we not wonder at the joy and happiness Herbie Widmaier poured into his songs here despite the hunger, agony, and suffering that must have surrounded him?? Mysterious energy indeed...!