Jowee Omicil – Naked (2014)

For his 3rd release as a leader (following Roots & Grooves (2009) and Let’s Do This (2006), the inquisitive, Haiti-descended, Montreal-born, Miami-based woodwind artist Jowee Omicil has chosen to pay homage to his elders and his broad cultural background.

In his warm, contemplative way Omicil has produced a disc that reveals new gifts with each listen – stripped bare of pretense and sans frills. For the most part Naked is a program of compact, complete statements delivered in a spontaneous fashion that speaks to a certain freedom principle. “The sense of quietness and consecration that you hear comes from the dedication, intention and the target atmosphere that I wanted to capture,” Omicil suggests, achieving an unusual fellowship with his musicians.

Largely bass and percussion execute the musical landscapes Jowee has cultivated for this package of largely original compositions. The opener, “Prayer 4 Coltrane” is the extended moment on this record.

Here Jowee achieves an evocative, prayerful reverence, invoking a sensibility of communing with spirits that serves as a powerful invocation. In preparation for this homage Jowee says “I prayed with the cats and told them that I wanted them to be totally free; I instructed them briefly on the cadence, their roles and that they should play within a sense of freedom.”

Coltrane is one of several of Jowee’s primary influences that appear on this record, playing a son’s love (“Gospel Suite for Dad”) and including Ornette Coleman (“Ornette Said”), Kenny Garrett (“Griot Steps”), “SONNdaY’s Blues” (Sonny Rollins), and a reworking of Wayne Shorter’s classic “Footprints.”

Characteristic of the distinctive flow of this date the Naked oklatter is performed on soprano sax with tabla drums, conga, and dual bass accompaniment, lending new textures to Shorter’s modern standard.

And clearly these are not empty platitudes, each tribute bears the sparkle of fresh soundscapes. Ornette Coleman, with whom Jowee has developed a friendship, is celebrated in the kind of pithy, folk-melodic mode that Coleman would approve. “Ornette is a true master for me,” Omicil affirms, “and an inspirational human being. He’s been nothing but generous towards me since we’ve known each other. One day we were playing pool in his lab and that melody came to my head.”

Another rewarding asset is Jowee’s adroit ability to alternate his instruments. In his attractive clarinet work he achieves a deeply expressive, woody tone that shows up on another folk-like melody “Ti Amo,” as well as “Afro PC,” “I Need That in My Life,” and “Naked Kote Moun Yo.”

Kenny Garrett’s influence is celebrated with “Griot Steps,” with the leader on soprano saxophone, luxuriating in a two-bass atmosphere – one bassist playing pizzicato the other arco – achieving a fine orchestral balance. This piece and several others are punctuated by spontaneous vocalizations from Jowee, either wordless or as scat embellishments.

“I hear a lot of sounds so I tend to sing them to make sure they come out exactly the way I hear them in my head,” Jowee explains these oral improvisations. That vocal quality is also borne out in the inclusion of several bits of studio patter intentionally left on the recording. “That’s what it’s all about, being naked. The listener gets to hear what took place before or sometimes after the track; it’s intimate, organic.” That sense of organic intimacy permeates this remarkable disc, right down to the lovely, yearning quality in his alto saxophone in spare duet with Fender-Rhodes on Jowee’s lovely “Gospel Suite for Dad.”

The musicians who work with Jowee Omicil on Naked may be new to your ears, but perhaps not for long. Of particular note are bassist James Quilan and drummer Michael Piolet, who comprise the core ensemble for most of Naked. “They are great young upcoming musicians who I met when I moved to Miami. Michael Piolet is from Chicago and is a great listener; he was 19 when we recorded this. I believe in setting up young musicians for a great future.

James Quilan was maybe 18 when we recorded and I just love his attitude. I believe that your personality comes out of your instrument.” Indeed a keen sense of personality awaits the listener who happens upon this finely crafted, skillfully executed recording.

by world class US Journalist Willard Jenkins