Fareed Haque - Casseus LP


The music of Frantz Casseus, reimagined

Prelude 1:33
Simbi 6:52
Congo 7:52
Rara 6:59
Estamos Aqui 5:11
Dance of the Hounsies 8:12
Come Sunday 4:48
Serenade 2:10
Fi nan bois 3:24

All music by Frantz Casseus
All arrangements by Fareed Haque

Guitars Fareed Haque
Piano Kevin Kozol
Bass Alex Austin
Percussion Jose Maria Piedra
Drums Greg Fundis

Special Guests :

Juan Pastor cajon on Rara and Aqui Estamos

Paul Cotton percussion and Djembe on Aqui Estamos

Richard Christian tabla on Aqui Estamos

Rob Dicke drums on On Sunday

Paul Wertico drums on Dance of the Hounsies

Ugochi Nwaogwugwu vocals on Fi nan bois

Recorded at Delmark Studios by Steve Wagner July 7-8, 2019
Edited at RaxTrax by Jason Schmidt

Mixed and mastered by David Darlington

***Estamos Aqui recorded live at Epiphany Arts by Jason Schmidt
*** Fi nan bois recorded at Soundmine Studios by Dennis Tousana

Fareed Haque plays
Electric guitars by Brian Galloup
Henriksen and Acus Amps
Schertler and ClingOn Pickups
D'Addario Strings


There's an argument to be made that Haitian-American guitarist-composer Frantz Cassus (1915-1993) was one of the most overlooked figures in modern classical music. By fusing the European classical tradition with Haitian folk elements, the "father of Haitian classical guitar" developed a distinctive vocabulary on his instrument that was at once full of contrapuntal complexity and teeming with driving rhythm. Those qualities caught the ear of Chicago-based Fareed Haque, a modern guitar virtuoso who has tirelessly explored the realms of jazz, funk, fusion,Latin, world music and classical over the past four decades.

The son of a Pakistani father and Chilean mother, Haque studied jazz at North Texas State and classical at Northwestern University before embarking on a successful career, first in the Chicago Latin jazz collective Chevere, then as a sideman to Cuban saxophonist-clarinetist Paquito D'Rivera before debuting as a leader in 1988 with Voices Rising on Sting's short-lived Pangaea label. There followed a string of successful albums on Blue Note in the 1990s before he formed his fusion-oriented Fareed Haque Group in 1995, his jamband Garaj Mahal in 2001 and his Indo-fusionflavored Flat Earth Ensemble in 2008. Haque has also toured with jazz icons as Joe Zawinul, Dave Holland and Billy Cobham.

But what he has done on this creative reimagining of the music of Frantz Casseus is something entirely different. Credit fellow guitarist Marc Ribot with turning Haque onto the genius of Casseus. A prominent figure on New York's downtown scene of the '80s, and someone more closely associatedwith skronking than delicate fingerstyle playing through his jagged improv work with John Zorn and as a leader of his bands Rootless Cosmopolitans and Ceramic Dog, Ribot immersed himself in the music of Frantz Casseus decades ago. In an incredible bit of serendipity, when the Haitian-born guitarist-composer emigrated from his hometown of Port-au-Prince to the United States in 1946, he eventually settled into an apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side at 312 W. 87th Street, just a block away from where Ribot's aunt Rhoda and uncle Melvin lived on W. 86th Street. In time, the couple befriended the Haitian emigre and Ribot ended up taking guitar lessons, from age 11 to 14, with the master. As Ribot recounted in a Jan. 1, 2003 article for Bomb magazine: "He was the first person I ever heard play a musical instrument live. When I decided to study guitar, it was decided that I would study with him."

In 1993, the year his guitar teacher passed away, Ribot released Plays Solo Guitar Works of Frantz Casseus on the Belgian Les Disques du Crepuscule label. Then in 2003, Ribot played another significant role in preserving his mentor's musical legacy by editing the first print book of Casseus' complete works for solo classical guitar (published by Tuscany Publications).

But prior to its release, Ribot sent Haque handwritten charts of Casseus' music with the brief suggestion: "Hey man, you should play this shit!"As Haque recalled, "When the package arrived kind of out of the blue I immediately noticed that it wasn't the printed version, it was the handwritten music in either Marc's hand or Frantz's hand. And as I began playing through it the biggest epiphany for me was feeling that this was not exclusively classical guitar music but music that had an ensemble conception behind it. And as I learned more about him, I discovered that he rearranged and recomposed these pieces many times."

As Haque began adapting Casseus' solo guitar pieces for his working quintet of keyboardist Kevin Kozol, bassist Alex Austin, percussionist Jose Maria Piedra and drummer Greg Fundis, he found that both players and audience alike were energized by them. "We started playing these tunesin my band and it was such a groove," he recalled. "We had one rehearsal and then we playedin front of an audience for the first time at Millennium Park in downtown Chicago. They were super into it and started dancing in the aisles. Casseus' music is so strong rhythmically that it always elicits this very visceral reaction from audiences wherever we play it. And to see the physical powerof these rhythms on people had a pretty powerful impact on me."

Other Casseus pieces here like "Simbi," where Haque's flowing guitar solo reflects the linear burn of a George Benson, and the dynamic "Rara" both have that same driving rhythm that can compel audiences to dance. As Haque explained, "'Rara' is a specific a Haitian rhythm that's fast and upbeat and not quite as syncopated as the traditional Afro-Cuban beat, but it still has that same kind of energy and intensity. A lot of these Afro-Caribbean rhythms tend to be slower and more in a 6/8 vein. But this tune just jumps off and people start flipping out when we play it."Haque highlights the contrapuntal nature of Casseus' writing on the solo fingerstyle opener, "Prelude." As he explained, "The counterpoint that exists in these pieces is so elegant and so beautiful, where you really get a sense of two and three voices moving. And yet, it still retains that more traditional feeling in the harmony. It's just a really unique piece."The buoyant "Congo" floats on a loping rhythm and mesmerizing riff over a bass counterline while "Rara," book-ended by delicate solo guitar and bristling with intricate counterlines, grooves hard as it showcases pianist Kozol's considerable chops. The percussion interlude "Aqui Estamos" features three members from the rhythm section of Haque's 15-piece world music group, the Chicago Immigrant Orchestra -- Juan Pastor on cajon, Paul Cotton on djembe and Richard Christian on tabla.The stirring, modal "Dance of the Hounsies," a piece about Haitian Santeria voodoo ceremonies, also finds Haque taking the most liberties with Casseus' compositions. "This piece is meant to refer to the mystical, tribal energy of that totemic, animistic tradition where they have animal sacrifices and such things," he explained. "And I think it's Casseus tipping his hat to that underside of Haitian culture, which is the opposite of the tidy, neat French side. So I thought as a jazz musician, exploring that underbelly was probably appropriate. It felt supernatural and super natural." "Hounsies" has guest drummer Paul Wertico channeling his inner Elvin Jones and Jack DeJohnette on an open-ended middle section while the leader delivers cleanly articulated, aggressively angular lines reminiscent of the late Pat Martino, a major influence on Haque. "Certainly, this is the one piece that we take the furthest from its original vision," he said.

"In tackling Casseus' music, I don't think you want to try to pretend that what we're doing is Haitian traditional music, because it isn't. So I didn't want to get Haitian musicians to play this in a traditional Haitian way. Instead, we take some liberties with the pieces because we had to craft solo sections, since there's really no improvisation in Casseus' compositions." The lovely "On Sunday" is an alluring Haitian bolero featuring some beautifully lyrical fingerstyle playing and effortless blowing from the leader along with another brilliant piano solo from Kozol. "I just love that piece but it took me so long to memorize because it didn't fall under the fingers in expected ways," said Haque. "The more I find a piece like that -- beautiful yet challenging -- the more I'm interested in following up with it."

The classically influenced "Serenade Lointaine" (a rough translation would be "distant serenade") is a beautiful solo guitar number tinged with a sense of melancholy. "I think the implication here is that this is something you are hearing from a distance," said Haque. "You're on the beach and you're hearing the guitar from far away, wafting over the air, under the sound of the waves. That's how I imagined it. There's so many Spanish poems where somewhere in the distance someone's playing a guitar. I was in Granada recently and, sure enough, you'd go out walking nightand go under a window and hear someone playing guitar. And it was just beautiful to hear it. And I got the same feeling from this piece. Plus, the voice leading is so exquisite it could easily be scored for string trio or quartet."The lively dance number "Coumbite," energized by an undercurrent of churning percussion, is actually an instrumental version of Casseus' "Merci Bon Dieu," a song that Harry Belafonte introduced on his 1957 RCA recording, An Evening with Belafonte, which Casseus also played on. Casseus! closes with "Fi Nan Bois," a hauntingly beautiful guitar-voice duet featuring Nigerian-born singer Ugochi Nwagwogwo. It's the lone song on the album where Haque plays his 1963 Ramirez classical guitar. The rest of the pieces are performed on his hybrid electric Bryan Galloup Prototype Fareed Haque model."There's such strong ideas in Casseus' music," said Haque. "It definitely comes out of the melodic tradition of Haitian music, so there's an inherent connection to the French language, Frenchphrasing, French words, French impressionistic music. I'm sure the influence of Ravel and Debussywas very strong in someone like Casseus. So it is elegant music with a French feeling in there, but there's also an African feeling coming through in the rhythm. And to me, if you could take all of this incredible impressionistic music and distill it down to its essence and put it on one guitar, that would be Casseus." -- Bill MilkowskiBill Milkowski is a longtime contributor to Downbeat magazine. He is also the author of "Ode to a Tenor Titan: The Life and Times and Music of Michael Brecker" and co-author of "Here And Now: The Autobiography of Pat Martino," both on Backbeat Books.