Sélène Saint Aimé burst onto the (jazz) scene in 2020 with her album Mare Undarum, a big favourite at Idle Moments and arguably one of the most refreshing debut in recent memory, on which she transcribed the influence of the moon on her music through a unique blend of poetry, pan African jazz and classical influences. Potomitan, her anticipated follow up, has just landed on the ever excellent Komos label and should rightly establish the young double bassist, vocalist, composer and band leader on a more global scale.
In the intimate confines of brilliant corners a few weeks ago, some of us were lucky enough to see Sélène for her first ever performance in the UK, in a trio configuration featuring master percussionist Boris Reine-Adélaïde from Martinique and Cuba’s Irving Acao on tenor saxophone. Within the first few seconds of Arawak Uhuru, the album opener which also kicked off the concert, the whole atmosphere in the room was instantly transfigured by the transcendental quality of the music, led by Sélène’s semi improvised counterpoint of voice and double bass swimmingly riding alongside a hypnotic bélè beat.
Potomitan has a deeply spiritual meaning in Haitian voodoo as it refers to the central pillar of the temples where ceremonies take place and spirits are awakened. In the Martinique and Guadeloupe it also designates the mother who supports the equilibrium of an entire family. During the pandemic Sélène spent many months in Martinique (where her dad was born) exploring her family roots and the strength of Caribbean women. When she returned to Paris to record the album, the mostly improvised sessions naturally drew from traditional Caribbean music, placing legendary maitre ka Sonny Troupé from Guadeloupe and bélè tanbouyé Boris Reine-Adélaïde right at the heart of the album. The traditional gwoka and bélè polyrhythms interact majestically with Sélène’s swinging double bass, while her angelic vocals are mostly sung in an otherworldly made up language, as heard on the title track, Potomitan.
The album also features trumpeter Hermon Méhari, who forms a brass section with Irving Acao on the majority of the tracks and brings a splendid rendition of Charlie Parker’s The Bird, while the other cover on the album, Mélisande (à mamie Jacqueline), an arrangement of a theme by Jean Sibelius, places Mathias Lévy’s violin and Guillaume Latil’s cello at the forefront, in a version for a string trio and vocals. The music as well as the combination of musicians evolve fluidly between each track, from trios to septet, as Sélène invents a new folklore, a fresh form of Caribbean jazz vivified by improvisation which belongs entirely to her. One of the albums of the year without a doubt, and a talent to follow for years to come.