By Jeff Cebulski
Is Chicago jewel Fareed Haque a jazz guitarist, a neo-classical artiste, a World Music wizard?
My answer is: all of the above. Haque is, without a doubt, a virtuoso whose expertise has enlightened many a student, an artist who seems to get better with age.
Which is my way of saying that his new album, CASSEUS! The Music of Frantz Casseus Re-imagined may be his finest yet.
Haque, who will appear at the Jazz Showcase Saturday and Sunday April 29th and 30th along with B3 Organist Tony Monaco and drummer Isaiah Spencer, has appealed to a wide audience and artist range—from Paquito D’Rivera to Sting—for over 35 years, as he has taken listeners to musical trips around the globe while being grounded in a Midwest jazz sensibility that rivals people like Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell.
CASSEUS! Is a tribute to the underappreciated Haitian guitarist and composer Frantz Casseus, whose music Haque was introduced to by fellow guitar wizard Marc Ribot, who studied under Casseus. Thus the new album features Haque’s unique global-stylistic takes on music from Casseus’ oeuvre, demonstrating both his dexterity and aplomb with exotic motifs sketched inside classical, folk, and jazz structures.
Alongside Haque are equally dexterous players Kevin Kozol on piano, Alex Austin on bass, Jose María Piedra on percussion, and Greg Fundis on drums. This ensemble played some of the Haitian’s music in front of a Millennium Park audience in 2019 to local acclaim.
If I had to suggest one offering that demonstrates Haque’s virtuosity and his group’s ability, I would offer “Coumbite,” the instrumental version of “Merci Bon Dieu,” a song recorded by the late Harry Belafonte (with Casseus playing along) in 1957. Here, Haque is a controlled demon on his personal hybrid electric model while his mates, notably Piedra and Fundis, lather up.
An example of Haque’s arrangement genius is “Dance of the Hounsies,” with guest Paul Wertico, which deviates from the original Haitian folk motif to create something almost progressive rock-like, allowing Wertico to express himself freely while Kozol and Haque improvise, the latter landing somewhere between Pat Martino and John McLaughlin.
“Simbi,” the second piece, comes closer to Metheny’s famous group, with the exotic rhythm and precise melodic flow. The next piece, “Congo,” has the diasporic feel the title suggests, while “Rara” represents something slightly Eastern, including Paul Cotton on percussion and djembe, with Richard Christian on tabla and Juan Pastor on cajon.
The album ends with “Fi Nan Bois,” a lovely duet of Haque, on classical guitar, and Nigerian singer, ex-rapper, and poet educator Ugochi Nwaogwugwu that reflects the French element indigenous to Haitian expression and influential in Casseus’ development.
Wonderfully recorded predominantly by Steve Wagner at Delmark Riverside Studios, CASSEUS! displays everything we have loved from Chicago native and world traveler Fareed Haque, whose dedication to our locality and to educating the masses helps to present our city as a culturally-diverse musical garden. No matter what the venue or occasion is, a concert or recording from Haque and friends pays sonic dividends, especially this one.
Fareed Haque, CASSEUS! The music of Franz Casseus re-imagined. Wardude Music, 2023.
Fareed Haque, guitars
Kevin Kozol, piano
Alex Austin, bass
Jose María Piedra, percussion
Greg Fundis, drums
Juan Pastor, cajon (4,5)
Paul Cotton, percussion and djembe (5)
Richard Christian, tabla (5)
Paul Wertico, drums (6)
Rob Dicke, drums (7)
Ugochi Nwaogwugwu, vocal (10)
About Jeff Cebulski
Jeff Cebulski, who lives in Chicago, is a retired English educator (both secondary and collegiate) and longtime jazz aficionado. His career in jazz includes radio programs at two stations in southeast Wisconsin, an online show on Kennesaw State’s (GA) Owl Radio from 2007 until 2015, and review/feature writing for Chicago Jazz Magazine since 2016, including his column "Jazz With Mr. C". He has interviewed many jazz artists, including Joshua Redman, Charles Lloyd, Dave Holland, John Beasley, and Chris Brubeck, as well as several Chicago-based players. Jeff is a member of the Jazz Journalists Association. Contact Jeff at firstname.lastname@example.org