Some of us, or better said, many of us, still remember with nostalgia the good old times when famous musical groups such as Ibo Lele, Ibo Combo, Les Frères Corvington and many others were evolving on the Haitian musical scene. Musicians like sax player Lionel Volel, pianists Eddy Prophète and Anton Martinez, guitarist Alix Pascal, conga player and singer José Tavernier, to name but a few, were introducing a new, jazz-oriented sound in Haitian music. Many have marched on since; a younger generation is now holding the flag, but one member of the old guard, so to speak, has decided to take us back down memory lane, recently releasing a CD to make us reminisce these good old times.
With his unmistakable deep voice, José Tavernier used to delight us with his good-naturedly attitude on the conga while singing, always in a good mood and full of joie de vivre. On this CD entitled “Meli Melo – tour du monde en musique”, José Tavernier touches on a variety of melodies from three countries: Haiti, Italy and Brazil. His aims, as he announces on the CD, is to bring back some of the beautiful melodies we used to listen to all the times. By the same token, he is also sending a message to the younger generations by reminding them of some of the most beautiful ballads written by musicians like Hansy Dérose, Herbie Widmaier, Adolphe Chancy, Boulot Valcourt and many more.
To do that, José Tavernier assembled an excellent cast of musicians, among them Didier Labossière (sax). André Déjean, Alix Haspil (trumpets) Ernst Jean-Louis (acoustic bass), Roosvelt Fleurinord (piano) and others. The first tune “Kafe” was a memorable melody written by Hansy Dérose and made famous by the group Ibo Combo. The arrangement is superb. Listen how the pianist follows the melody, ever so discreet and soft. Every note fits perfectly. I have always been fond of the sound of the stand-up bass and Ernst Jean-Louis, the musical director, does an outstanding job. As usual, André Déjean has one of those scintillating solos that only he knows how to do. Herbie Widmaier classic “Fanm peyi m ” receives also an excellent treatment from the group. Didier Labossière on the saxophone is simply excellent. At times, he makes the saxophone wail in such a way that you can almost hear the words coming out of his instrument. He is alternatively forceful, soft, hesitant, as he feels the music, while pianist Roosvelt Fleurinord provides support in the background, in the most sensitive way. Tune No. 5 “Mwen pwale wè Marie” is a poem by famous poet Syto Cave and put into music by Boulot Valcourt. Played on a soft bossa nova beat, it is a real treat!. Didier Labossière’s solo on this song is out of this world. The notes flow in cascade, and he plays with great abandon, completely free.
Tune No. 6 “Senfoni des mouches”, is one of the most lyrical melody on the CD. José Tavernier is joined by Jerrie Longchamp in a nice duet. The same occurred in the following tune “Je t’aime”, written by Tavernier, in the purest style of the French ballad. You can hear how both just enjoying the song. The duet is excellent.
Throughout, you can feel this joie de vivre of remembering these melodies. Tune No 8 “Bébé mini-jupe” used to be a signature song for José Tavernier and friends and I remember how they used to play it with such gusto. This is what this interpretation reminds us of. Except that the arrangement is richer. Pianist Fleurinord, as he does throughout the CD, follows closely every twist and turn, while Labossière plays a vibrant solo in the tradition of John Coltrane, with notes pushing each other on the register and falling right into the melody.
As Tavernier said in the introduction, this CD is a nice mix of Haitian songs and other songs from Italy and Latin America. The mixing is excellent and so is a superb cast of musicians. However, the CD does not only take us back musically; it has an even larger humanitarian goal: that of helping a foundation doing fantastic work in the area of Kenscoff and taking care of nearly a thousand young kids. That should be one more important incentive for you to rush to your friendly CD store to buy your copy and have the satisfaction that you are contributing to a valid social cause.
Help fight Haitian CD piracy, it is bad for everyone.
Serge Bellegarde, for windows on Haiti, December 2008