Presented by OLG

Ches Smith and We All Break

Fri, Jun 28, 2024
Azrieli Studio
National Arts Centre

Sirene Dantor Rene - lead vocals
Tim Berne - alto sax
Matt Mitchell - piano
Nick Dunston - bass
Daniel Brevil - tanbou, lead vocals
Markus Schwartz - tanbou, vocals
Fanfan Jean-Guy Rene - tanbou
Lalin St Juste - vocals
Tossie Long - vocals
Ches Smith - drums, percussion, vocals

The brainchild of NYC drummer/percussionist/composer Ches Smith, We All Break features pianist Matt Mitchell, saxophonist Miguel Zenón, bassist Nick Dunston, vocalists Sirene Dantor Rene, Tossie Long and Lalin St Juste, and master drummers of Haitian Vodou Daniel Brevil, Markus Schwartz, and Fanfan Jean Guy Rene.

Internationally known as a NYC-based percussionist and composer-performer, Smith’s dedication to Haitian Vodou began more than twenty years ago. Hired to accompany a Haitian dance class, he was immediately taken with the art form. Formal study in New York and Haiti followed, which led to folkloric performances and Vodou ceremonies. For the last twelve years he has worked a variety of gigs in the Haitian communities of NYC, Gonaives, and Paris in tandem with his career in jazz and creative music.

Exploring the interface of his two musical worlds, Smith formed We All Break in 2013 with two of his mentors of the Haitian drum, Daniel Brevil and Markus Schwartz, and frequent creative music collaborator pianist Matt Mitchell. Smith’s compositional vision aimed to incorporate and transform elements of the traditional music – lead/chorus song structure, polytonal relations among singers and drums, conversations between the drums, and kase (‘breaks’) – placing them at the center of each piece. With a traditional rhythm as the foundation of each composition, that rhythm’s spiritual, political, and visual associations could function as deep wells of information and feeling, levering the work into a new dimension.

After several years as a quartet, in 2020 the ensemble expanded to an octet to record Path of Seven Colors, pushing We All Break into new terrain. Smith and Brevil collaborated on the concept, which demanded an expanded vocal dimension, more developed melodic writing, contrabass, and another Vodou drummer. Smith had recently met vocalist Sirene Dantor Rene when he joined Vodou roots group Fanmi Asòtò. Her presence and authentic vocal stylings made her an obvious choice to sing lead. Acclaimed saxophonist and MacArthur fellow Miguel Zenón serendipitously reached out to Smith around this time to ask about Haitian drumming. Smith asked him to join as well to strengthen the melodic aspects of the compositions and provide another soloistic voice. He invited master drummer “Fanfan” Jean-Guy Rene to fill out the drum team, and young bassist and composer-performer Nick Dunston to expand the low end and connect with the drum set.

Brevil, in charge of bringing in traditional Vodou songs to nestle within Smith’s original compositions, did so and much more—he composed many of the songs himself, varying the album’s authorship in order to bring home his thematic points. His curation brought up questions about the distinction between ‘traditional’ and ‘original.’ In fact, the religion has seen songs that were created in a particular Vodou house and enter the repertoire in that fashion. Perhaps this was at work here with Daniel’s original songs.

The resulting album Path of Seven Colors was hailed by The Guardian as a “a tour-de-force of jazz innovation,” by Jazziz as “A sublime magnum opus,” and by Downbeat as “A groundbreaking album…stunningly original and mesmerizing in its ritualistic power.”

The ensemble’s music and collaborative process are featured in a 50-minute film “We All Break,” by award winning filmmaker Mimi Chakarova, which streams at and

We All Break continues to grow their presence, having performed residencies and jazz festivals in New York City, and toured internationally though Berlin, Buenos Aires, Paris, Brive-La-Gaillarde, Bordeaux, and Knoxville.