A Review of Andrew Cyrille’s Haitian Fascination by Monique Ngozi Nri and Ahmed Abdullah

Welcome to our first blog about the Music of the Spirit that is performed at Sistas’ Place on Saturdays from September to June.

Last night, Saturday, April 3, 2010, the first night of the CBJC Jazz festival at Sistas’ Place we were privileged to hear Haitian Fascination, an incredible group led by drummer Andrew Cyrille. The first set opened with a haunting Haitian melody sung by Frisner Augustin who also plays the Haitian drums. The piece was accompanied by Andrew Cyrille on the multi-percussion drum set, Buyu Ambroise on tenor sax and Lisle Atkinson on bass. The intricacy of the interplay between Andrew and Frisner took us all to a place of African sensibility. A place preserved in the oral and musical traditions that were largely untouched by European or other influences for hundreds of years following the Haitian revolution of Toussaint L’Ouverture. There was considerable excitement generated in the room by the masterful percussion exchanges between Andrew Cyrille and Frisner Augustin, who is also an amazing vocalist.

The music that followed was fitting for a set of musicians who have collaborated in various settings for twenty years or more. Lisle Atkinson leads the Neo Bass Ensemble while Buyu Ambroise has released several CD’s of his own music. The exception as far as longevity was Andrew’s relationship with Frisner, a founder of La Troupe Makandal, whom Andrew reconnected with following a collaboration with one of his New School students, Sarah Dupuy. Although all the musicians are leaders in their own right, Andrew generously led the group like a collective with each member contributing compositions.

Andrew’s connections to Haiti and the community of Bed-Stuy are both very strong. He grew up around the corner from Sistas’ Place and mentioned in his introduction that his father and mother came to the US from Haiti in 1919 and 1926, respectively. Of the recent tragedy, he acknowledged the passing of two of his cousins and his need to communicate on a spiritual level about Haiti through his musical work. The music did seem to invoke the spirit of vodoun.

 Andrew Cyrille

Sistas’ Place has been working with and for Haiti prior to the earthquake. Madafi Pierre spoke during intermission about the Pan African response to the Haitian situation. She laid out some very important history which included the fact that the USA would have been a very different country without the Louisiana Purchase of 1804 which was directly connected to the successful revolt of the Haitian People in the same year. The Louisiana Purchase doubled the size of the United States as a result of that acquisition. After laying out the history and speaking eloquently about the current response on the part of the December 12th Movement, which includes the donation and delivery of 5,000 gallons of water, Madafi sung with Frisner Augustin and guest Neil Clarke accompanying. Her voice had a resonance and authority that invoked Africa and Haiti and when Frisner began to sing along, their combined voices were really something special to behold.


Buyu Ambroise’s piece which means Conflict began the second set. Andrew Cyrille and Frisner Augustin began playing over an ostinato bass line laid down by Lisle Atkinson. Frisner brought his vocal into the mix. The playing of Andrew and Frisner together reached a new level of rhythmic interaction. Buyu played the tenor with passion as Frisner complimented the solo with vocal insertions. The interaction between Andrew and Frisner at the end of the composition takes one right to Africa. There can be no doubt after listening to Andrew Cyrille and Frisner Augustin, that it is Africa and the drums that’s the source of Jazz: A Music of the Spirit. The second piece of the set began as a trio number with Buyu, Lisle and Andrew playing a song that had a folk ring to it. It was beautiful melody that was well appreciated by the sizable audience. Andrew’s mallet work was really marvelous, setting up a rich and forceful melodic layer. His playing was like thunder and it hit the mark every time. The melody that Buyu played was named Conviction and puts one in mind of John Coltrane. The next composition began with Frisner singing and playing in his inimitable African-Haitian style. The exchange between Andrew and Frisner once again took one to another plane. Lisle Atkinson had a song that he did in duet with Andrew that demonstrated the mastery of both those musician on their instruments.

Neil Clarke, a master percussionist in his own right, was heard to say in response to this duet that these cats were playing so much music they were raising the bar and making it harder for everyone which is exactly what Jazz: A Music of the Spirit is supposed to be about.
Ahmed Abdullah also shares a rich history with Andrew Cyrille with their membership of The Group, almost 25 years ago. Abdullah will take the lead for the festival on Saturday, April 10th, 2010.

Leave a Reply