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New York City, New York, United States | INDIE

New York City, New York, United States | INDIE
Band Jazz World




"A musical cornucopia which proudly exalts the beauty and uniqueness of Creole music."

A musical cornucopia which proudly exalts the beauty and uniqueness of Creole music.

Listening to “Nou La” is like embarking in a journey to discover (or rediscover) the stunning beauty of music nurtured by the voodoo musical repertoire. In their perpetual quest to draw and shape the contour of a new direction in “Rasin” music, guitarist Monvelyno Alexis and percussionist Markus Schwartz launch a duo-album strewn with beautiful melodies that intertwine with polyrhythmic rara lines as well as amazing guitar chords that seems to fit all nine tracks compiled on this album.

The music on Vo-Duo, alike all previous creations from these two well-known Kreyòl jazz musicians, continues to be atypical to what we are accustomed to listening. It is a quest to find the hidden truth, the non spoken words and untold stories behind what we can call now the voodoo standards (traditional). To do so, they came up with straightforward, but dazzling arrangements to support these soothing sacred melodies that are entrenched in the Haitian collective memory.

The listener will certainly find refreshing the “inside” playing of the instrument that is set to go along with a sustainable presence of the drums, the core piece of the project. Pieces such as “Alegba Gran Chimen”, “Kouzen”, “Wangòl” and “Gede Men Lajan”, to cite a few, deserve special attention. Monvelyno’s voice and original scat skills seem to fit very well this music, especially in the vocal unisons with Markus.

Although I wish the guitar were more present to reinforce the improvisation component, this project stands as a courageous endeavor initiated by two unconditional lovers and advocates of the Afro Haitian culture. It is the expression of their determination to enable the legacy in the footsteps of previous great bands such as “Sa”, “Foula”, and the very early version of “Boukman Eksperyans”. They both thrive to carry the unique signature that defines Vo-Duo as a rare, tenacious and valuable voice in this uncharted territory.

Simply magic!

For KariJazz: Alphonse Piard, Jr.
November 1, 2012
- karijazz.com

""Nou La" Recording review by Kevin Mason"

Nou La (“We’re Here”) is the first album by Vo-Duo, a group recently formed by guitarist Monvelyno Alexis and percussionist Markus Schwartz in Brooklyn, NY. The pair extends the legacy of the Haitian mizik racine and sanba movements, which developed in the early 1980s in Port-au-Prince, in the contemporary New York City jazz scene. The nine-song record features original compositions and arrangements of the Vodou repertoire pared down for voice, drums, and guitar. The album takes this localized style to New York, arguably the heart of the Haitian jazz scene in the dizyèm depatman, harmonizing traces of both worlds and pushing the boundary of roots music for wide audiences.
The clever name of the group captures the thematic content of Nou La, which begins with the Alexis’ opening acapella composition “Bonjou.” Vo-Duo says bonjou with a salute to the sacred asoto drum, then to the lwa-s (spirits), and finally to all listeners, roping them into the spiritual realm as well. Once initiated, listeners experience a deeply personal album with complex musicality. On the group’s arrangement of Sanba Zao’s “Frelele” (The Struggle), Schwartz lays down a Yanvalou rhythm, interwoven with a spicy Kongo/Manbo pattern from Lakou Soukri in Gonaives. The coda features both artists employing tanbou a bouch, a style of audibly “scatting” the onomatopoeic tones of the drums. On the folk standard “Pale Mal” (Bad Talk), Alexis’ jazzy minor chord progressions are warmed with a tasteful amount of reverb and reveal the guitarist’s deep connection to the legendary song. The pair interprets it more intimately than other renditions I have heard, notably the more-upbeat version by RAM. Over a restrained Mayi rhythm, they create sweet vocal harmonies throughout, capturing the emotion of being roped into the gossip or “Pale Mal” of others, “mwen nan mitan yo” (“I’m stuck in the middle of it all”).
Alexis uses his platform as songwriter and performer to express the intimate and complex connection that many Haitians have with Vodou, an integral part of their daily lives and overall creative output. He is a poet in the sanba tradition, which he experienced firsthand with Louis Lesly Marcelin (Sanba Zao) in his Port-au-Prince neighborhood of Carrefour-Feullies. He learned the flute in high school, as well as folkloric arts and history at l’Ecole Nationale des Arts (ENARTS) and guitar at the Berklee College of Music. Schwartz is a percussionist who studied Haitian drumming with Jean-Raymond Giglio of the influential racine group Foula, then travelling to Haiti and learning in many lakou-s throughout the island. Stylistically, his drum-set up includes Haitian tambou, cajon (a hollow, boxlike instrument of Peruvian origin), bell, tambourine, and ride symbol. The sound is distinctively his own, with the occasional live addition of electronics, as well as some other bells and whistles (literally). Nou La is an important album by two musicians fluent in Haitian folkloric music who realized its potential after meeting in NYC’s jazz scene. Listeners are assured that this stripped-down, well-mastered jazzy record by two of today’s best Haitian jazz musicians accomplishes its goal of extending the roots traditions in the Tenth Department.
- Haitian Studies Association Newsletter

"Invaluable for international music enthusiasts"

On his new Equinox CD Markus Schwartz & Lakou Brooklyn, (Markus) leads a quartet with a full battery of Haitian percussion instruments including conch shells. He has also arranged and collaborated on selections which celebrate the work of Haitian philosophers, artists and composers. His knowledge of Haitian culture and expertise in its music make this session invaluable for international music enthusiasts - allaboutjazz.com / Dr. Nick Catalano


"...The musical traditions of Africa also permeate the rich, sinuous music of Haiti, and to explore this terrain we have a wonderful musical guide in percussionist extraordinaire, Markus Schwartz, and the trio "Lakou Brooklyn", on their recent release entitled Equinox [Soundkeeper Recordings]. It is always fun to keep an ear out for Soundkeeper Recordings’ Barry Diament, whose recording techniques always create a sound that is vibrant and fresh; natural in image dimensionality and rich in ambient details... - Stereo TImes

"albanyjazz.com TOP FIVE RELEASES IN 2010 (#4 spot)"

Although jazz is a uniquely American music, other cultures are definitely part of the idiom. Danish born Markus Schwartz is a student of Haitian religious music and has been practicing Haitian percussion for 20 years. He leads a quartet of Percussion, guitar, bass and trumpet through 5 Haitian pieces and a cover of Trane's Equinox - albanyjazz.com

"Invaluable for international music enthusiasts"

Markus Schwartz was born in Copenhagen, grew up in a jazz rich American household, and has spent the last 20 years studying Haitian religious music. On his new Equinox CD Markus Schwartz & Lakou Brooklyn, he leads a quartet with a full battery of Haitian percussion instruments including conch shells. He has also arranged and collaborated on selections which celebrate the work of Haitian philosophers, artists and composers. His knowledge of Haitian culture and expertise in its music make this session invaluable for international music enthusiasts. - allaboutjazz.com

"LAKOU BROOKLYN QUARTET LIVE AT ZAKAFEST A step further toward a true Haitian identity in the world of Jazz"

Percussionist Markus Schwartz came to Miami with a new quartet, to be part of the Zakafest celebration that took place on May 1st at the MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) Plaza in North Miami, Florida...Band leader, Haitian-drums player Markus Schwartz was in great company with a splendid quartet. He played strong throughout the night. In my view, few drummers have the aptitude to rise to the level of artistry Markus achieved ...With musicians of that caliber, embracing this approach, we will probably see this music reaching another level. This true Afro-Haitian sound will stamp our identity in the jazz world. - karijazz.com

"A jazz suite encompassing a fusion of black musical languages"

percussionist Markus Schwartz delivers another astonished and complex album inspired mostly from his rich experience with the Haitian culture as a whole. Released on November 1st, 2008, “Tanbou Nan Lakou Brooklyn” represents another gem to add to the royal crown of the rich Haitian Musical Experience. The drummer/percussionist ventures down complex avenues and calls on old musician friends and Jazz talents from the New York/international jazz scene to put his ideas into acoustic sounds and expressive colors.

Flanked by an impressive cast of highly qualified musicians, Mr. Schwartz, meticulously assembled a collection of past experiences stamped by profound, comprehensive Lakou learning and a clear vision for a multi-form black musical language; an eclectic expression of the Black Diaspora. - karijazz.com


movement is slowly taking shape among a small cast of dedicated musicians heavily influenced by American Jazz and the music of Haitian Vodou. There is a new interest among serious musicians in Haiti, Boston, New York and elsewhere in firmly establishing a Haitian Jazz tradition in the United States. The modern practitioners of the movement include artists like Boston's own Gifrants (whose particular style "Natif" we will discuss in an upcoming issue), and a host of New York-based talent including members of the group Mozayik, saxophonists Buyu Ambroise and Thurgot Theodat and trumpeter Jean Caze among others.

The notion of blending Afro-Haitian and American concepts in music is as old as New Orleans' famous Congo Square. The contributions of the Haitian slaves and freedmen to the American Jazz movement in New Orleans cannot be ignored. Besides the numerous "Creole Jazz" bands that seasoned European songs with a bit of the Caribbean, it was Haitian-American pianist Jelly Roll Morton who first penned the music that became Jazz.

In Haiti, men like Issah El Saieh founded orchestras and used Jazz theory to delve deeper into the mysteries of Haiti's native sounds. Those efforts continued well into the 1980s with the work of groups like Magnum Band, Ibo Combo, Caribbean Sextet, Zekle, Sakad, Tit Pascal and his Ayizan project, Edy Prophete and Azor. Today we find the continuation of those efforts in the work of Mozayik and the reputable solo projects of Boulot Valcourt and Reginald Policard.

The new Haitian Jazz scene has a home in little-known website, Karijazz.com, where artists and fans alike indulge in passionate debates about this music. The movement also has a home in Manhattan's famed club, Sounds of Brazil (SOBs), where for the past three years, Mozayik drummer, Gashford Guillaume, has helped popularize an annual Haitian Jazz festival.

Musican and Mozayik co-founder Markus Swchwartz is among the talented contributors to the Karijazz forum and an active participant in SOB's Haitian Jazz-related events. Recent debates around the meaning and ingredients of Haitian Jazz have led many among the forum's brightest contributors to conclude that the movement needs to expand its cannon of recorded material to truly explore the essential elements that might help establish this new music.

It is in this light that Markus's first solo release, "Tanbou Nan Lakou Brooklyn" (Haitian Drums in The Brooklyn Yark) is of interest to us. "Tanbou" ranks among the releases that may help shape dialogue around the future development of Haitian Jazz. Markus' first effort as a leader in this genre takes the listener through a musical adventure with Haitian rhythms.

"Tanbou Nan Lakou Brooklyn" is not, strictly speaking, a Jazz or Racine (Roots) album. The work showcases Haitian rhythms against a broad array of musical settings, almost making an argument for the many possible uses of the Island's varied rhythmic traditions. The album starts off with a chant to the drum sung by an Ougan (Vodou Priest) named Erol Josue. The traditional "Ounto", a song praising the spirit behind the drum is also a song about the persecution Vodou practitioners experienced at the hands of the Haitian government and Catholic missionaries during the anti-superstition campaigns of the 1940s. Another interesting piece is "Kongo Piga..." where the drum journeys back to Africa and is set to back a modern West African Highlife or Rhumba arrangement.

The astounding "Danbala" brings Haiti's Yanvalou rhythm to America where Coltrane styled phrasings from the horns of Buyu Ambroise and trumpeter Jean Caze embrace Markus' refined technique. The follow up, "Legba" is a tasty salad of Haitian vocals, Petwo drumming and Guadeloupian saxophonist Jacques Schwarz-Bart's heavily American chops. The promise of this particular song is that it could create a path for today's aspiring and established Jazz artists to bring dancers back to Jazz as quickly as the advent of Bebop expelled them.

The song "Cecia" with its Cuban flair nods to a little known chapter in the development of Haiti's African rhythms, when savvy plantation owners transported their Haitian slaves to Cuba at the outset of the Haitian revolution. Markus delivers a spectacular solo as the song winds down, foreshadowing an even more astounding solo performance in "Sol Tanbou Ti Roro" dedicated to the memory of Haitian percussionist, Ti Roro, an iconic figure in the 1950s whose recordings lured the great American Jazz drummer Maz Roach to Haiti to study the technique of the Haitian master.

Another percussive offering is made in "Seremoni Tiga" to the memory of artist Pascal Garoute, who was partially responsible for setting off Haiti's famous "St. Soleil" peasant painters movement. This particular number features the work of Haitian saxophonist, Jowee Omicil (formerly a Boston resident) who brings an element of Nigerian Afro-Beat in the horn arrangements.

We head back to African shores in, "Sam fe moun yo" and here the drums are set to a musical backdrop that recalls the style of Zimbabwe's Oliver Mutukuzi. I could go on and on about the fine musical pairings on this album, but I'll leave a little something for you to discover once you buy your own copy.
- Boston Haitian Reporter


Lakou Brooklyn, (2012)

Markus Schwartz & Lakou Brooklyn - Equinox
Soundkeeper Recordings, 2010

Markus Schwartz - Tanbou Nan Lakou Brooklyn/Haitian Drums in the Brooklyn Yard -self-released, 2008 (featured on NPR, peaked at #3 on JazzWeek's World Music radio airplay charts, BEAT Magazine top ten release for 2008.)

Mozayik (co-leader) - Haitian Creole Jazz
Zoho Music, 2004

many sideman credits, including Wyclef Jean, Emeline Michel, Pauline Jean, Jowee Omicil, Buyu Ambroise and more.

Monvelno / Kod ak Po Project:
Kouzin Azakamede 2010
Conscience State of Mind 2011



Born in Copenhagen Denmark, percussionist Markus Schwartz grew up in an American household surrounded by jazz, and has devoted the last twenty years to learning the wealth and complexity of traditional Haitian drum music. Moving in and out of Haiti since the early 1990s, Markus followed the lead of Haitian percussionists on pilgrimages into the countryside to learn the intricate and powerful Vodou drums. Markus was a founding member of the ground-breaking Haitian Jazz quintet Mozayik and the Buyu Ambroise & Blues in Red Band, Markus has recorded and/or performed around the world with many of Haiti's finest musicians, including “Queen of Haitian Song” Emeline Michel and Hip-Hop superstar Wyclef Jean.

In late 2008, Markus recorded a "solo" project featuring an all-star cast of invited guests Tanbou nan Lakou Brooklyn/Haitian Drums in the Brooklyn Yard reached #3 on the JazzWeek World radio charts.

A Haitian native from the small town of Port -au-Prince, Monvelyno Alexis began playing the Guitar at the age of 18. Gospel music was his first musical experience. As a young boy, Monvelyno's instruments included the Flute, Clarinet, and the Trumpet. However, his passion for the Guitar was supreme. By his early twenties, Monvelyno had matured into an experienced Guitar player and he was fortunate to meet and begin playing with Thurgot Theodat, one of Haiti's most famous Jazz musicians who were working to fuse Jazz and Voodoo rhythms. This propelled Monvelyno into a deep ethnography of Voodoo music. Over the next three to four years, he visited traditional temples, as Lakou Souvenans, Lakou Badjo, Lakou Soukri, and spent time with highPriests and Priestesses of Voodoo, and learned many of their ritual spiritual songs.

Inspired by the rhythms and chants of the sacred Vodou music traditions of Haiti, guitarist/vocalist extraordinaire Monvelyno Alexis and renowned percussionist Markus Schwartz incorporate elements of "Mizik Rasin", Jazz and Rock into a uniquely original and modern improvisational context.

Vo-Duo's debut recording, entitled "Nou La" (We are here) is a testament to this dynamic duo's combined lifetime of dedication to their craft. Monvelyno & Markus are both established bandleaders and sought-after sidemen on the Haitian music scene in NYC and beyond. Together they manifest a unique and passionate musical vision for the past, present and future of Haitian music.