Album review

Ches Smith & We All Break – ‘Path of Seven Colors’

Ches Smith & We All Break: Path of Seven Colors

Pyroclastic Records. Album Review by Tony Dudley-Evans

There has always been a strong relationship between jazz and Latin and Caribbean rhythms.  This has often involved Cuban,  Brazilian or Puerto Rican rhythms, and one thinks of Dizzy Gillespie’s late 1940s big band, Stan Getz’s collaboration with Joao and Astrud Gilberto and Miguel Zenón’s explorations of Puerto Rican folk melodies and rhythms. 

Haitian music has more recently become a focus for certain New York musicians; Andrew Cyrille has explored his American Haitian roots on the Haitian Fascination, while composer/pianist Bobby Avey showed his deep respect for Haitian traditions in his Authority Melts From Me recording.Drummer Ches Smith, who is mostly known for leading a trio with Craig Taborn and Mat Maneri, and for playing drums and percussion in various groups of Tim Berne’s, also has a deep interest in Haitian music, or vodou (sic) as we should call it.  He has studied and played with Haitian master drummers in New York, and visited Haiti itself for further study and playing.  He has formed a group We All Break, the original version of which was a quartet with two Haitian drummers and vocalists, Daniel Brevil and Markus Schwartz, Matt Mitchell on piano and Ches Smith himself on percussion. 

Their 2015 recording, largely vocals plus percussion or piano plus percussion, is included in the package with the 2021 Cd.


The main interest is, however, in this latest Cd in which Smith has expanded the group to an octet with the addition of Miguel Zenón on alto saxophone, Nick Dunston on bass, vocalist Sirene Dantor Rene and a third percussionist Jean-Guy ‘Fanfan’ Rene.  In the albumSmithhas worked with the group to create a very successful and exciting synthesis of jazz and vodou music. 

The album begins with Woule Pou Mwen in which a patttern of call and response between the lead vocalist and the chorus is established.  This pattern of call and response runs through all the tracks, both in the vocals, and between the vocals and either the percussion or the front line instruments. 

Several tracks start with the vocals and then move into the instrumental passages, others do it the other way round.  Two tracks are purely instrumental with the piano and sax interacting with the drums.  One track moves in and out of the vocals and the instrumental passages.

The inclusion of Matt Mitchell and Miguel Zenón really makes the album into something really unique and special. I imagine that soloing over the complex Haitian rhythms must be quite challenging, but both Mitchell and Zenón do so very naturally and the interaction between them and the drums and vocals is often stunning.

By combining the two genres of jazz and vodou music Smith has doubled the aesthetic value of the music and produced a unique album.

Path of Seven Colors is released on 11 June 2021

LINK: Path of Seven Colors at Bandcamp

Categories: Album review

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