Michel Camilo: Live From New York
“ It can be any type of project. It can be symphonic, a solo project or even a trio piece. I just love to write. ”
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.
“I try to set aside some time during the year to compose, especially if I have a new project coming up, like a recording or a commissioned piece. I like to be challenged. When there’s a new project, the juices begin flowing and I just go with it. It can be any type of project. It can be symphonic, a solo project or even a trio piece. I just love to write. It’s really important, because it contributes to my sound.”
Even when he writes for classical performances, there are still elements of jazz tossed in, he says. He finds it appeals to both audiences, and the live performances get good reaction. “The good thing about the five times I played my piano concerto [on his European tour] was two of them were jazz festivals, one was a World Beat festival and the other two were in a classical series. It’s really nice to see how the audience responded in each one of the environments to a classically-thought-out piece. We had sold-out audiences and I had to play two or three encores at the end. The audience just enjoyed the piece. That’s what you want as a composer. It helps me to be the composer/performer as well.”
Camilo has been touring like a madman playing Triangulo and will start playing repertoire from the new CD as of the end of August. He has a European tour booked for his jazz trio and also has more classical concerts planned, as well as teaching gigs at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. So for Camilo, business remains good, his audience remains strong and things are going well.
“ Triangulo did very well, and it’s still doing well worldwide,” says Camilo, noting that while playing the material in early August at the Newport Jazz festival in Rhode Island, it turned into a jam session when David Sanchez was asked to sit in with his saxophone. “After playing Triangulo, we had a big jam session on two standards that lasted 25 minutes. The audience went wild and gave us a standing ovation. I love doing that.”
Jam sessions also spur Camilo’s creative juices. Like one in German this summer with Joe Lovano. “We never played together. And had not played together all the way to the concert. When we got together for the sound check, we just picked the standards and played a whole set of standards. It was a three-part concert. We both played solo. Then at the end, we did the encounter. That was quite exciting.
“That’s something that I never want to miss out on. Because jazz has that immediacy, especially when you jam with another fellow. You kind of communicate with each other and it’s really exciting when you have never played together before to see if you can create sparks, so to speak.”
Creative sparks are common with Camilo and his daring trio. So he’s got a right be excited. And with the new live recording, so do jazz fans.