If there is a musical genre in Haiti that has steadily and qualitatively developed, it is without doubt the jazz genre. Many artists come to mind, such as like Eddy Prophète, Réginald Policard, Turgot Théodate, Jean Caze, Alix Buyu Ambroise, Richard Barbot, and the list goes on and on. The many Haitian jazz festivals both inside and outside Haiti are proof that the public is seriously catching on to the excellent work and talent of those artists. That is why I am so happy to highlight in this Chronique the CD recently released by one such Haitian jazz artist that many abroad may not be aware of, but who is just superb. I am talking about the wonderful guitarist, composer, arranger Ralph Millet, whom I call the Antonio Carlos Jobim of Haiti. And by that I am not suggesting at all that he is just an imitation of Jobim, far from it. He has his own style of play, but it is evident that Jobim heavily influenced him and one could not have a better mentor. His recently released CD entitled: “Gad jan sa bèl!” is proof of that. The title, which means: “Look how this is nice!”, reflects precisely that: it is a beauty indeed! Every song on the CD showcases the talent of a thoughtful, refined and talented guitarist.
From the first notes of the first song, Ralph Millet gives us a good sense of the lyrical character of his music. Like Jobim, Ralph's voice is soft, sensitive. While he sings and plays his guitar, he caresses every notes, as if he was caring for a little baby. After all, to compose, to write and to arrange is certainly that. Which Ralph does with incredible sensitivity. Throughout the CD, he is superbly backed by three wonderful female singers: Françoise Volel, Vanessa Pinard Jacquemin, and Rosemax. It is an extremely satisfying experience to listen these harmonious romantic and relaxing voices. You will be literally mesmerized by the combination of Ralph's voice and that of these three singers. This is a perfect symbiosis. You hear that in tune No. 1, Sur la pointe des pieds, on the title tune, Gad jan sa bèl! or No. 3, à coeur bas, and many others on the CD.
Ralph's music is as sophisticated as it is enjoyable to listen to. Listen for example in tune No. 3, Life's a bunch of fridays , the different movements in the songs, from Brazilian samba to a modern “jazzified “Haitian konpa in a seamless transition. Such beautiful transition also occurs on other tunes. The arrangement on the traditional Haitian song, Fèy is most original. There has been so many arrangements of this song in the past that it is an absolute joy to listen to how a musician reinvents the song. Ralph's arrangement is superb. In that respect, throughout the CD, Raph Millet is superbly supported by an incredible cast of musicians, such as, among others, Réginald Policard and Eddy Prophète on the piano (7 and 8), Jean Caze on trumpet (3), Richard Barbot (3, 5, 6, 10, 12) , Don Wilner (2, 7, 11), Laurent Cicéron (4, 8) on the bass, Joel Widmaier, Jimmy Daniel, Frantz Courtois, Maxime Castera. You just cannot go wrong with musciains like these. They provide flawless support to Millet.
I have listened countless time to the CD and it always sounds fresh to your ears. Of the 12 songs on the album, 11 were composed by Ralph Millet, which makes him a formidable composer and arranger. All you have to do is to close your eyes and let the song carry you. In tune No. 9 for example, Ralph Millet and Françoise beautifully sing together, Ralph in his soft, calm tone, Françoise in her pure and so sweet and innocent tone.
Tune No. 11, Tan an mare ( The weather is dark) is also of note. Richard Policard introduces it slowly on the piano and the pace rapidly picks up on a rara beat with intermittent forays by the bass and beautiful flute and cello arrangements by Frantz Courtois, while Ralph and Vanessa Pinard hum the melody. In the middle of the song, the beat slows noticeably to pick up up again later. This is a beautiful imagery of some of the bad weather -both literally and figuratively - we get in Haiti, with a lot of wind starting strongly, then diying down to become even stronger. I have listened to the CD more than once and believe me, there is something new to discover everytime. Each one of the twelve songs on the CD is a favorite for me. There is variety, there is harmony, there is excellent musicianship. I sure hope Ralph Millet does not stop there and I am anxiously waiting to see how he is going to top this one.
The CD is well mixed, it is relaxing, and you will enjoy it from start to finish. In other words, this is the kind of CD that should prominently figure in your collection of Haitian jazz.
Help fight Haitian CD piracy, it is bad for everyone
Serge Bellegarde for Windows on Haiti, October 2010
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