The Blue Note, September 27, 2011:
Kathy and I are delighted to attend the opening night performance of Michel Camilo at The Blue Note in New York. He is teaming up with his old friend, master percussionist Giovanni Hidalgo and Charles Flores; his exceptional bassist for the last nine years. The traffic from New Jersey is exceedingly difficult, which only adds to the excitement and anticipation of the debut of “Mano a Mano,” Michel Camilo’s newest musical creation. We meet our dear friend Chris La Rosa, who is first on line. Second only to Michel’s wife Sandra, Chris is undoubtedly Michel Camilo’s biggest fan.
I am on the press list tonight thanks again to Blue Note publicist Jonathan Kantor. We are fortunate enough to get table 6, which is a prime location to watch and review the show. Our table service is provided by Melissa and Rachel and is, as always, beyond compare. The food is excellent and we are very animated and joyful at tonight’s opening. We are joined by two first-time Camilo concert goers; Allison from Seattle and Suzanne from Australia. They are in for a wonderful live musical experience.
Just after 8:00 P.M., Michel Camilo, Giovanni Hidalgo and Charles Flores take the stage to an extended and raucous round of applause. Michel begins with a piano solo that starts calmly and then quickly builds with his colorful, melodic and percussive styling. Giovanni Hidalgo displays immediate insightful enthusiasm and superior musical skills. The opening song is “Yes,” the first song on the new CD, “Mano a Mano.” Michel and Giovanni exchange melodic and percussive phrasing in an answer/response style that develops the challenging rhythmic structure. Soon Michel ‘comps’ on the piano as Charles and Giovanni step up the rhythm section in mellifluous and rhythmic accord. Giovanni Hidalgo displays his renowned style and chops that dazzle the audience. The trio executed sharp and succinct stops that provide dynamic contrast and control. Giovanni displays remarkably fluid two-hand rolls with cut-time passages that make us smile and laugh. Charles’ strong and creative bass lines form the foundation for the dueling partners.
Michel speaks of the long-time friendship between him and Giovanni Hidalgo, which spans seventeen years. Michel collaborated on Giovanni Hidalgo’s record, “Hands of Rhythm,” so very long ago. Chris and I recognize the distinct signature of the second song, “The Sidewinder.” The arrangement is bright, engaging, upbeat and provokes finger snapping. The composition has a catchy commercial melody that is developed and embellished upon. Michel tickles the ivories as Giovanni drives the melodic rhythm. The accents are hard and distinct and the arrangement sometimes contains a slight bluesy feel. Michel executes mesmerizing right hand leads as his left hand drives the melody. Giovanni now plays fiery double-time hand and finger rolls with sharp two-handed flams that showcase polyrhythmic variations with silky ease.
The next song, “Then and Now,” is dedicated to seasoned bassist Charles Flores. The arrangement begins with a dreamlike, majestic and delicate piano intro. Charles plays the most mysterious sounding bass accompaniment with his bow. The bass line is spiritual, melancholy and somewhat sinister. Charles’ bow dips deeply into your musical soul. The musical mood is reflective and the dynamic contrast is inspiring. Giovanni touches the chimes delicately to accompany the dissonant, restrained musical presentation. Charles is exacting and thoughtful in his attentive note selection. The crescendos are glorious and imposing and then resolve to dissonance and deep passion. Giovanni is restrained on his bongos, with clever cymbal touches with his hands and a small finger box for particularly succinct accents.
The next composition is, “Mano a Mano,” the title track of the new CD. This music is complex and forceful. The melodic and rhythmic interplay is spellbinding, as Michel and Giovanni check each other out! The intensity is challenging as Michel is broadly smiling and distinctly expressive. Michel explodes to a fiery crescendo and then abruptly stops for Charles to be featured; as he fingers his bass ferociously. The musical exchange between Michel and Giovanni is very exciting to witness; with fiery double-time rolls to clever polyrhythmic cut-time passages. YIKES !!!!
“Alfonsina y El Mar” is very subdued with a stark piano intro. Giovanni Hidalgo accompanies with delicate chimes as the melody is moody and reflective; exemplifying deep passionate resolve. The arrangement is majestic, but simply and elegantly stated. The striking melody is graceful and deeply emotional. Charles develops distinct bass accents as his finger move all over the fret board like a stealthy spider. Michel colors this melodic painting with a stunningly expressive touch, which is superbly articulated in a vibrant scene of beauty.
“Rice and Beans” kicks up next and is very lighthearted. The excitement of the music is especially contagious. Giovanni adds succinct rhythmic dynamics with a stick in his left hand: Carnival!! There are sharp stops and accents. Everyone is bopping to the infectious rhythm as the trio is nailing the concise syncopation. The audience is enveloped in Camilo love! The excitement is encapsulated in Michel’s huge and genuine smile. Michel and Giovanni fully complement each other lovingly. The music builds to an intense frenzy, with Giovanni’s flowing hand and finger rolls and syncopated stick accents.
Between sets, Charles Flores comes over to our table to personally greet us, as Charles always does. We respect and admire Charles in so many ways.
Kathy and I have the pleasure of spending a few choice moments with Michel and Sandra. It is always so very special to know these two magnificent human beings.
Kathy and I also get to meet, and get acquainted with, the amazing Giovanni Hidalgo. Giovanni is incredibly warm and approachable to everyone. A sincere thank you to Giovanni Hidalgo!
“Hello and Goodbye” begins the second set. Michel warms up his creative extensions with a piano intro that encompasses precious and whimsical musical variations with demanding rhythmic complexity. The piano becomes purposely potent, while emulating gracious and flowing Latino flavored melodic maturity. Giovanni is radiant as Charles personifies creative intensity and focus. Giovanni utilizes the reverse stick on the timbales as Michel’s percussive attack level cuts right through effortlessly. While Michel’s left hand massages the chord progression, his eyes are intense and trance-like as he vigorously chops through the melody. Michel and Giovanni are completely in synch. Their polyrhythmic intensity is quite remarkable as they weave their way through an intoxicating musical rebellion.
“You and Me” is a deeply touching ballad. The musical mood is serene and considerate. The delightful piano refrain is etched upon my musical memory. This imagery is extremely honest and filled with gratifying splendor. “The Sidewinder” is again a huge crowd pleaser. The audience is different, but the result is exactly the same. Everyone is fully engaged and swept up in the good vibration of this endearing composition. “About You” is soothing, ethereal, slow and sexy. The music lends itself to romance and is flush with love and respect. The audience is completely hushed!
“Reflections” begins with a reserved piano solo. The music depicts a colorful Latin flavored traditional ballad. Giovanni is subtle, controlled and exacting. His percussion is mesmerizing, hypnotic and sultry. The arrangement builds to Giovanni’s rim shots and cowbell accents. Giovanni can seamlessly adjust from small and simple to wild and frenzied.
The next musical segment is Giovanni Hidalgo’s drum and percussion solo. It is truly impossible to attempt to describe the astonishing percussion solo Giovanni Hidalgo performs. I can easily testify that it is the most overwhelming percussion exhibition I have ever seen. Eventually, Michel Camilo joins in on the most remarkable piano/percussion exchange I have ever witnessed - EVER!!
“Rumba Pa’ Ti” closes out the second set. The song contains the most imaginative combination of time signatures Michel has fashioned yet. The song contains in part: 6/4, 5/4 and 4/4, all used interchangeably and seemingly without predictable pattern. What an incredible creation of unique musical beauty and timing pandemonium.
Needless to say, we the audience are completely and utterly blown away!! You come away from tonight’s gig fatigued and emotionally drained, following the assault of these performance virtuosos. There is a wealth of golden musical bullets strewn around The Blue Note tonight. If you miss this “Mano a Mano” performance, you have missed an especially memorable musical experience.
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