Reginald Policard, a leader among Haiti’s elite musicians, recently released his latest work, “Changing Moods” for fans of his brand of Haitian and not-so-Haitian jazz. The release is a product of his label, PoliSon, and is comprised of a very modest nine instrumental pieces.
One could go on and on about the importance of the work Policard has done in Haitian music. He seems to have possessed a strong sense of his own voice, musically, even while a young leader of his first short-lived band, Ibo Combo. The founding members of Ibo followed him and his main accomplice, Boulot Valcourt, as they spear-headed a new avant-garde and Jazz-oriented Konpa movement in the band, Caribbean Sextet in the ‘80s. The end of the Caribbean Sextet era marked the beginning of the Reginald “PoliSon” era, a point where the artist totally indulged his tastes for instrumental music and a desire to blend Haiti’s native sounds with a host of international influences.
Changing Moods displays Reginald’s fun loving approach to composition. The album’s title track, “Changing Moods”, is your typical smooth jazz arrangement blessed with some fantastic scale hopping from guitarist Leo Quintero. On this piece, Policard matches Quintero’s fire with some of his own volcanic eruptions on what sounds like his classic Rhodes piano.
Another notable number is “Papa Dambalah”, which starts off with a dramatic lead exchange between keys and bass that suddenly ascends into a very modern Jazz arrangement circumventing Policard’s acoustic piano – the tune’s “poto-mitan” or high priest. The Caribbean Sextet classic, “Caroline”, has grown up and become a woman named “Carole” who – Cougar that she is – allows the seduction of up and coming trumpeter Jean Caze while winking approvingly at the other young guns vying for the opportunity of conquest.
The album’s masterpiece is the exciting and controversial “Yanvalou Blue” brilliantly announced by the drumming of one, Edwin Bonilla, where Haiti’s rugged congas meet with an exciting Jazz/Blues progression. The controversy here lies in the debate this song has stirred among dedicated musicians about whether the percussion is a true “Yanvalou” or a “Mayi” – another of Haiti’s many percussive traditions.
“Changing Moods” does not disappoint the serious or invested listener. Reginald Policard’s work is known for its polish and this album will rank among his best. The elder statesman is joined by a cast of up and coming musicians, his son Jeff on backing vocals, Jean Caze on trumpet and Nick Orta on bass among others. The team works seamlessly as an ensemble and it would be heaven to see these players actually perform some of this material live in the states. Until then, “Changing Moods” is available to guide you through this recession for a song “sans” interest. Discover this man and his music!
Dix Doits, Six Cordes, Un Seul Toto
How I let this not-so-new release escape my radar is unknown, but now that I’ve obtained my copy, hear-ye all: Haiti’s renowned musician-raconteur, Toto Laraque, has a fine release available on a CD shelf near you! Laraque’s latest, an independent release, features a 12-song blend of original and cover material.
Will Haitians ever not associate the name Toto Laraque with a cat named “Fifi” and a raspy voice? Probably not! But that is as the artist would want it! He was Caribbean Sextet’s artful lead guitarist and prior to that had dared to replace the legendary Robert Martino after his departure from Gypsies de Petion-Ville. Like his former band mate Reginald Policard, Laraque has been releasing a string of great solo albums in his own attempt to own and redefine his career as a musician.
“Dix Doits” is keeping alive the nimble fingering techniques that were once the hallmark of Haiti’s great guitar heroes while providing the listener with a glimpse of the character that makes this artist a national treasure. The album’s best songs include its title track, “Tet bobech”. No, I don’t know what that means either, but by the passion the artist infuses into this groove section, your Granma can tell you stories about grandpa back in his “vagabond” days! Toto’s passionate remake of Santana’s “Samba Pati” displays the artist’s fine ability to weave a fine story with melody.
“Kouwsousa…” is a heated but sparse musical exchange between guitar and bass that bares the essentials of a traditional Haitian groove. Renowned pianist Edy Prophete is featured in a “nativized” version of the Chick Corea classic, “Armando’s Rara”. You won’t stop delighting in the fine charms of “Dirty Rara”, another remake of a Jazz classic where Toto’s son Pascal Laraque flexes his muscle on keys accompanied by the fine work of Nazaire Baptiste on Congas and Jean Celestin on vocals.
“Dix Doits” is the kind of album that one discovers again and again. Its charm lies in its bare bones instrumentation, a quality that forces the talents of the players to pour through most songs! The percussive work throughout this release is robust and central to the album’s many fine qualities. Pascal Laraque, Toto’s son and main sidekick on keys for many years, shows significant growth as a player and his fine taste is particularly apparent in a remake of the Jazz classic, “Nature Boy”.
What more can I say? Toto plays and all the “Fifis” meow their approval. Join the choir! Get your copy today.
The Reporter Thanks: Patrick St. Germain of International Perfumes and Discount for availing the CDs for review. The releases are available at 860 Morton Street Dorchester, MA (617) 825-6151.