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Michel Camilo: Essence

Dan Bilawsky By

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In numerology, the number 25 is connected to wisdom and an air of curiosity. Both traits, not surprisingly, speak directly to this pianist at the moment he delivers a dynamic big band album—his 25th release to date—a full quarter century after his first leader effort to explore this format.

Essence's playlist spans decades, with all new Michael Philip Mossman arrangements on Camilo classics from as far back as his debut, Why Not? (Evidence, 1985); the band is smoking, stacked with heavy-hitters including saxophonists Antonio Hart and Ralph Bowen, trumpeter Diego Urcola, and trombonists Steve Davis and Michael Dease; the pianist's longtime trio drummer of choice—the irrepressible Cliff Almond—is behind the kit to drive the train; and Camilo himself is raring to go right from the start, as made clear with a fiery trip through "And Sammy Walked In."

That opening track indicates Camilo won't be lost within the charts or sucked beneath the sea of talent bringing his music to life, and it also serves as the first of many reminders that his compositions aren't simply built on bravado. A blend of blues-based language, Afro-Cuban rhythms, and pure swing assigns "Mongo's Blues" its unique identity. Airy allure moves to the fore on the finely-textured "Liquid Crystal." The band punches and jabs its way through "Yes" in impressively tight rhythmic unison. And dance-friendly designs settle into the scene with the humid sway of "Piece of Cake." All the while, a series of stellar soloists—Bowen, Hart, Mossman, Almond, percussionist Eliel Lazo , and many more—light up their surroundings.

If you simply want to hear this band and its leader move full-steam ahead, there are some must-hear happenings like "Mano a Mano" and "On Fire." But there's more to this music than feats of strength and speed. The joining together of Camilo's calculations and impulses, Mossman's writing, and the combined talents of everybody in the ensemble both captures and expands on the essence of one of jazz's most exuberant and sharp-witted pianists.

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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2019

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