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Jowee Omicil
Spiritual Healing: Bwa Kayiman Freedom Suite Jeremy Allen , January 15th, 2024 09:26

The Haitian-Canadian jazz musician leads his band through a ritual re-enactment of the spark that ignited the Haitian revolution

The hum of revolution intersects with syncretic religion on Jowee Omicil’s quietly explosive latest album Spiritual Healing. Over the course of a one-hour suite, the Haitian-Canadian saxophonist and his band explore the night of 14th August, 1791, when Saint-Domingue slaves gathered at the Bois Caïman for a vodou ceremony. Out of that ceremony emerged the spirit of insurrection and a plan.

Whatever happened on that seminal night – and the accounts that have been passed down orally can carry a whiff of the apocryphal, as you might expect – an idea was planted that would ignite the Haitian Revolution, a bloody twelve-year struggle that led to independence for the country’s well-organised and grossly underestimated slaves. Haiti proved a perfect storm for the colonisers, putting the myth of white supremacy to the sword in the process.

These events are an undersung pioneering moment in the story of the Black freedom movement, and it’s that spirit of quiet defiance that imbues Spiritual Healing. As previously mentioned, the recording unfurls over the course of an hour, taking in twenty-one stations along the way that each represent a ritual step in the ceremony in the forest of Bois Caiman that night. Like the warriors of Dutty Boukman and later Toussaint Louverture, Omicil and his players – including Randy Kerber on piano and Yoann Danier on drums and percussion – are well drilled and winging it into the unknown.

Omicil, known as “the master of wind” and more patronisingly the “petit génie du jazz” in France (where he lives), guides us through an exciting and erratic work with moments of eye-flickering transcendence. Those stations are intermittent and come at you without interruption – and while they’re given names that are useful for guidance, it really is just the one complete piece that should be listened to in its entirety.

Nevertheless, for the purposes of navigation, ‘BasHuiat intrO’ begins sparsely and mysteriously, with an incantation here, a plucked bass harmonic there; ‘AmBusKad’ – the third movement – employs the skittering of percussion as insurgency starts to infuse the piece, and on ‘TracÉ’ (station five) the jazz is set free as the players begin to sonically describe the great storm that was supposed to have taken place that night, either during or as a result of the ceremony.

What the titles mean is open to interpretation, obscured by language and obfuscated by random capitalisation, but it all adds to the sense of anarchy. Is the stark, funky five-minute jam ‘Redevance’ at the conclusion of the record a nod to reparations, or more pointedly, the lack of them (redevance is the French word for royalties)? Whatever the meanings, what is communicated as a whole is a sense of hope, a spirit of resistance, and even a streak of cunning. Intriguingly, the revolution itself never quite manifests itself in the music. Presumably that’s to come.