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Michel Camilo: Live From New York

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It can be any type of project. It can be symphonic, a solo project or even a trio piece. I just love to write.
Pianist Michel Camilo is excited.

Those who know this virtuoso pianist might think: what else is new? Camilo is not a brooding artist. He’s vivacious and upbeat. He’s talkative and joyous as a rule. And well he should be, with a dynamite trio and recordings that are garnering both sales and critical praise. He’s traveling around the world performing to enthusiastic audiences. Gigs a plentiful. Not only is he playing kick-ass jazz, but he’s also performing his “Concerto for Piano & Orchestra” around the globe.

Whether playing solo or due and trio projects, in jam sessions or with classical works, Camilo seems to be doing it right. But his exhilaration isn’t over his past success.

Camilo is excited about his first-ever live recording, a double CD that comes out August 26, titled Live at the Blue Note , recorded in March at the famed New York City nightclub.

“For me, it’s one of the quintessential albums because it’s the first time I’ve ever had a live album, first of all. And second, it’s a double CD set. We capture both sets at the Blue Note,” he says. “The whole excitement of the album was to try to capture that energy that happens with a live audience in front of you. The word spread like fire around New York and we had a sold-out house. You will hear the excitement and the energy that happens. It’s really incredible.”

The disc contains 18 cuts, 16 of them original works – some older hits and some written early this year after Camilo returned from a successful tour in Europe his longtime drummer Horatio “El Negro” Hernandez and new bassist Charles Flores. The other two titles are a 7/8 reworking of “Tequila” and a medley where “Happy Birthday” turns into “Blue Bossa,” done for a friend who was celebrating a birthday at the club during the recording session. (“It came out pretty good, so I included it in the album,” he chimed).

“The whole excitement of the album was to try to capture that energy that happens with a live audience in front of you. The word spread like fire around New York and we had a sold-out house. You will hear the excitement and the energy that happens. It’s really incredible.”

The excitement jumps out from the first strains of the first cut, “Cocowalk,” a joyous romp. “Two of a Kind” is an introspective piece that shows Camilo’s melodic and romantic side. The CD mixes the soft and elegant with burners like “This way Out,” which begins with an El Negro statement and the kicks into burning runs by the pianist. The opening of “On the Other Hand” sounds church inspired before it starts to cook. Throughout, the music is injected with passion and executed with precision. It’s fun, yet intricate. The band plays with glee and inspiration. A delightful 2-disc set.

“It’s living pretty dangerously recording an album live. Especially with new material. We hadn’t really played it that much, because I wrote the material when I came back and we were rehearsing for two days and we went straight to the club. The chemistry is the most important thing. Good friendship and good vibes and everything comes together,” says Camilo.

Camilo said people had been asking for years for a live album from his exciting trio. “To tell you the truth, I didn’t do it because the labels wouldn’t let me. They thought live records don’t sell. Up until this year, when the Grammys had three different guys with live albums. Herbie [Hancock], McCoy [Tyner] and Wayne [Shorter]. Along with [Camilo’s own] Triangulo and Dave Douglas. When I proposed it to Telarc, they jumped to the occasion and told me yes.”

Last fall, Flores replaced bassist Anthony Jackson for a time when Jackson was injured in a fall and had to miss a tour. Flores has since stepped in full time, can Camilo is impressed with the Cuba native’s playing and how he melds with fellow Cuban Hernandez.

“There as something special that happened between him and Negro and I wanted to capture it,” says Camilo. “Charles came at the last minute. He knew the music from Triangulo. After that, we did a couple more tours, on the east coast and in Europe again at the beginning of the year. I decided it would be nice to have that chemistry captured on CD.”

“I wrote some new music, right after the first tour of this year. I came back totally inspired and wrote eight new songs. The rest of the repertoire is new versions of some of my very well known songs, stuff that I haven’t recorded in many years. There’s an extended version of ‘On Fire,’ that lasts almost 13 minutes.”

Camilo has become well known for his dazzling playing, but said composing is also one of his joys. It’s something he likes to do to keep growing.

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