There are times in a critics’ life when he or she stumbles upon something that is so profoundly moving, so effective and incredibly human that it must be savored. My brain is an instrument of constant motion, I hear, access and then release critical thought on all the music that comes my way. Having done this for so many years it becomes nearly impossible for my brain to cease functioning in that capacity. Once in a very long while a record comes along that absolutely halts me in my tracks. Here, now, in 2012, such an album has completely leveled my cynical, critical ideals and my pretentious ramblings.
Evening Dust Choir, an album by musician Joe Shaffer with the help of various Haitian musicians (operating under the collective name Slow Machete), is so incredible, so magically life affirming that I actually wept in the middle of hearing it. Does that make me a pretentious asshole? Probably. I don’t care at all. Evening Dust Choir is something so special that I am unable to contain my excitement over it. This is ethnomusicology at its very finest because it celebrates a culture, not the Western soapbox idea of a culture. For lack of a better term, this album is right, right in ideology, right in execution and right in how fucking amazing it is to hear. If Evening Dust Choir does not move you then your soul has been surgically detached from your body, or you’re a Republican.
Joe Shaffer is a humanitarian. He’s spent the last few years going to Haiti for various volunteer efforts. From medical clinics to orphanages and all things in between, Shaffer has made Haiti a second home. During his time there, Shaffer become friends with musicians and singers who he recorded with for the album Music Of Haiti: The Espwa Sessions Volume 1. As time went on Shaffer decided to use those relationships to record Evening Dust Choir. The scope of instrumentation on this album is staggering. Shaffer recorded hours of life in Haiti as well as movie clips, pitched down machetes (hence the name), and native percussion. Then, along with a Harmonium (a free standing keyboard that sounds like a reed organ) Shaffer blended these sounds together into a tapestry that demands to be heard. Evening Dust Choir is not a record you should check out; it is a musical experience you must be a part of, immediately if not sooner.
Though there are track titles, to write about this album in terms of “songs” would be to do it a vile disservice. This is an artistic movement, a statement of a culture and by a culture. Shaffer is no stranger to the horrors of life in Haiti but he smartly sidesteps the arrogant musician “statements” and political rhetoric that can weigh a project like this down. Instead he celebrates the joy of the Haitian people and their music without making it feel like we’re the great white hope smiling at the wonderful Haitian folks who sing and dance. This is a fly-on-the-wall approach and we’ve been given the gift of experiencing this culture without distractions.
Shaffer said that this was music for experiences and I think that’s part of why Evening Dust Choir is so effective. As musically dense as it is, it never has an agenda, it never dictates what you should feel when you hear it. An album that is musically fascinating, complex and layered but also free and without parameters is very rare. When there are vocals they are melancholy at times, sometimes bizarre, and then soothing. The music may be made of select pieces but it never falls victim to being jumbled or overbearing. When you hear Evening Dust Choir, if you allow yourself to just absorb what’s happening, it will draw experiences out of you. I don’t know what those experiences are; each will be different for each listener. I do know that you your heart will burst by the time the last note of Evening Dust Choir rings out.
The most amazing thing about this album is that, for right now, it’s a free download. The time, talent and emotion put into Evening Dust Choir is yours without a fee. So many soulless, bloodless, heartless albums coast out there on a wave of creative bankruptcy and expect you to pony up hard earned cash for them. Evening Dust Choir is a joyous celebration of a culture, its music and the heart of a man who loves it all dearly. I implore all of you with open minds and open hearts to get this record and listen to it repeatedly. These moments and albums are so rare. We have to cherish them.