Amazingly enough, this March 2003 recording marks the first live release from Michel Camilo, the Dominican Republic's preeminent pianist. Incidentally, it is also his first recording with an all Cuban rhythm section, Charles Flores on bass and Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez on drums.
For those unaware of Camilo's virtuosity and compositional skill both as a classical and jazz pianist, this set provides a great introduction to the depth and breadth of his astounding capacity. It is rare enough for any individual to attain artistic recognition, rarer still for that recognition to be fully deserved, and almost unheard of for someone to attain said recognition in two fields. Certainly, the rift between jazz and classical piano is no longer delineated by the barbed wire, carefully patrolled cultural divide of previous decades. The two expressive modes have come to not only recognize, but influence each other to a great extent. The first breakthrough may have been attained by Oscar Peterson, but the relevance of classical technique, knowledge, and spirit to jazz was firmly established by Bill Evans.
Since then, there are few piano players today who have not studied classical works and have not been influenced by them. In fact, current historical findings show that though the fact may not have plainly revealed itself in their playing, the earliest jazz piano innovators were more often than not well trained in the classical repertoire. So Camilo's crossover into the jazz world is neither historically unprecedented nor unfounded. It is, however, awfully unusual and tremendously impressive.
For one thing, current standards in both the classical and jazz professional environments have become so rarified, the market so competitive, the path to success so fraught with an endless series of professional hoops, that it seems amazing that anyone can navigate the harrowing course at all. Camilo's ability to not only function but also succeed within both these daunting economies may well be his most startling accomplishment of all.
That said, the music presented here is of rare quality and remarkable diversity. Camilo displays the sensitivity, humor, bluesy funk, and improvisatory flair only the most open-minded of musicians can achieve. From a rollicking, crowd pleasing rendition of "Tequila" to a series of transportive ballads, to more experimental Latin jazz romps like "Diochotomy" and "On the Other Hand," Camilo, with the support of Flores' faithful bass and Hernandez's fluid rhythms, engages an audacious array of styles.
Taken relatively straight, tunes like "Thinking of You " display Camilo's love of traditional jazz forms, whereas hybrid pieces like "Mongo's Blues" and "And Sammy Walked In " present Camilo's dedication to fulfilling the Latin-Afro-Cuban-American jazz synthesis begun by Jelly Roll Morton, tackled head-on by Gillespie, and assiduously pursued by numerous musicians since. Distinctly, Camilo succeeds in creating a healthy, exciting blend that incorporates much without sacrificing anything.
Camilio's approach may not shatter listener expectation, or reconfigure jazz's tonal and structural idiom, as some of today's younger experimenters are doing, but it will without doubt entertain, move, and astound.
Personnel: Michel Camilo: Piano,
Charles Flores: Bass,
Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez: Drums