Michel Camilo: Essence

Chris Mosey By

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Michel Camilo is a virtuoso pianist who mixes jazz, Latin and classical. Playing as part of a trio, he is famous for hitting the listener with a constant barrage of technique as dazzling as it is tiring. Fortunately, the big band format of Essence puts the lid on such displays. The album forms a retrospective on Camilo's career.

It opens with "And Sammy Walked In" from the maestro's 1989 album On Fire. It is dedicated to Sammy Figueroa, who happened to wander into the studio during the original session and ended up providing the song's principal ingredient, his virtuoso conga playing.

Figueroa is one of three master percussionists to whom Camilo pays homage on Essence. The second is Mongo Santamaría, to whom he dedicates "Mongo's Blues." Santamaría took Camilo under his wing shortly after the young pianist moved to New York in 1979. He appears on Why Not? (Electric Bird), Camilo's American debut album from 1985.

"Repercussions," is for the late, great Art Blakey. Camilo crossed paths with Blakey in the 80s during his days as a regular at the now-defunct Upper West Side club, Mikell's. "Art used to play there whenever he was in town," he recalls, "and I sat in with him one night. It was one of the highlights of my life."

The impressionistic "Liquid Crystal" throws a spotlight on the ensemble's youngest member, Cuban-born trumpeter Kali Rodriguez-Peña. "I wanted a Miles Davis vibe, full of long lines and atmosphere," Camilo says.

"Mano a Mano" was the title number from a 2011 trio album. Here Ralph Bowen (tenor sax), Michael Dease (trombone) and Michael Philip Mossman (trumpet) are to the fore.

The same album also provided "Yes," which highlights the lyrical trumpet of Diego Urcola. The atmospheric ballad "Just Like You" was originally penned for a film soundtrack.

"Piece of Cake" is notable for Antonio Hart's lyrical alto sax solo.

The album's closing track is its oldest number. "Hello & Goodbye" dates back to Why Not?. Originally released only in Japan, it was never recorded again.

Track Listing: And Sammy Walked In; Mongo's Blues Intro; Mongo's Blues; Liquid Crystal; Mano a Mano; Just Like You; Yes; Piece Of Cake; On Fire; Repercussions; Hello & Goodbye.

Personnel: Michel Camilo: piano; Ricky Rodriguez: bass; Cliff Almond: drums; Eliel Lazo: percussion, vocals; Antonio Hart: alto saxophone, flute; Sharel Cassity: alto saxophone, clarinet; Ralph Bowen: tenor saxophone, flute; Adam Kolker: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Frank Basile: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet; Michael Philip Mossman: trumpet, flugelhorn; Raul Agras: trumpet, flugelhorn; John Walsh: trumpet, flugelhorn; Diego Urcola: trumpet, flugelhorn; Michael Dease: trombone; Steve Davis: trombone; Jason Jackson: trombone; David Taylor: bass trombone.

Title: Essence | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Resilience Music Alliance

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