Michel Camilo Solo / Trio: Zankel Hall at Carnegie

Michel Camilo Solo / Trio


Zankel Hall at Carnegie, November 13, 2008:


        As I come up the subway stairs for work on November 8th, I anticipate seeing a billboard for the upcoming Michel Camilo Trio Concert at Zankel Hall. I have just completed my first year as an usher at Carnegie Hall. I soon see the large billboard on the outside wall of Carnegie Hall. Above each musician’s image is a performance review quote. I am totally surprised, overwhelmed and thrilled to see my quote above Charles Flores' image:

       “He conquers the top of the fret board with elegance, grace and determination.” --bboogie.com.


Michel Camilo Trio: Billboard at Carnegie Hall


Photo: ©A.J. Alfaro

       As a Carnegie usher, I enjoy some rewarding perks. I am able to come before the show and have complete access to the facility. My experience before the show is gratifyingly unique, and one-of-a-kind, in one’s musical life.

You can click here to share my personal experience prior to show time.


Michel Camilo Trio: showtime at Zankel Hall


Photo: ©A.J. Alfaro. All rights reserved.

       The show begins at exactly 8:35 P.M., as the lights go down and the audience reacts with applause. Michel Camilo takes the stage for a solo performance. Michel introduces the evening as Just Jazz: The Joyce Wein Series, a tribute to the memory of Joyce Wein.

       Michel Camilo begins quietly, gently touching the piano keys with poise and restraint. Occasional flourishes pepper the initial musical presentation, as the intensity carefully builds. The first composition is, “Suntan.”  Michel’s melodic development is driven by a steady and persuasive left hand. Michel’s right hand soon transitions to crescendos, as the familiar Latin melody evolves from a quiet introduction. The musical presentation expands as the approach seems improvisational and loosely structured. You can’t help but notice Michel’s left foot stomping quarter notes, driving the hand motion. As the musical momentum escalates further, the two-hand percussive rolls come naturally from the fire in Michel’s musical soul.  As Michel’s hands blur in a ferocious frenzy, one can’t help but feel Michel is still peaking at a level of performance that no one else will ever achieve.

       “The Frim Fram Sauce” begins hushed, moody and marvelous. The feel is a jazzy swing that is momentarily serene. Michel demonstrates an effective use of rests for dynamic contrast. Right hand finger rolls tweak a heavenly musical curiosity as the presentation uses dynamic variations in creative awe. Michel’s next composition, “Reflections” sets a distinct Latin mood. The music is sultry, slinky and sexy. The delivery remains thoughtful and expressive, with sharp and distinctive dynamic stops. The musical feel is very upbeat and lively; with a smile on your face and a snap on your fingertips. For a brief moment, Michel’s left hand predominates, as his right hand rests. As a crescendo builds, a cut-time passage features right hand rolls as the left hand stomps succinct rhythmic quarter notes. The imposing musical attack crescendos with relentless flourishes and arpeggios.

       “Adios Nonina” is the quintessential tango. The rhythm, distinctly staccato, contrasts effectively with a sublime whispered quiet, illustrating the gorgeous melody. The musical delivery is regal and respectful, with superior melodic splendor. The presentation flows back and forth from hot and hard, to soft and serene. The mood is passionate, revenant and adoring. The incredible phrasing is touching and graceful.

       Michel Camilo concludes his solo performance to a standing ovation. He pauses to introduce the other members of his trio:

       Charles Flores, on bass, has been playing with Michel for seven years.


Charles Flores


Photo: ©A.J. Alfaro. All rights reserved.

       Dafnis Prieto, on drums/percussion, has been playing with Michel for five years.


Dafnis Prieto


Photo: ©A.J. Alfaro. All rights reserved.

       The trio set opens with “Just Now,” off Michel’s latest CD Spirit of the Moment. Charles’ bass is unyielding and resounds profoundly throughout Zankel Hall. Charles’ smile is infectious! Dafnis Prieto is succinct and compelling, as the trio jells quickly. As the trio collaborates on the melodic development, the feeling they convey is warm, genuine and engaging. Charles walks, as Michel flourishes. Dafnis is compact with a reverse stick on his snare; complemented with tom-tom accents. The spontaneous musical chemistry is immediately evident, as Charles and Dafnis inspire Michel to startling musical heights. They cleverly utilize dynamic change for melodic emphasis that is affectionate and charming.

       “My Secret Place” begins with Michel’s delicate piano introduction. The musical imagery is majestic and floating, like an approaching storm. Charles uses a bow, as Dafnis skillfully utilizes mallets. A kind of musical drama and intrigue prevails. Charles’ facial and eye expressions display deep emotion. Dafnis Prieto’s brushwork is impeccable, while his hi-hat is sharp and precise. Charles’ superior control, phrasing and technique convey a marvelous melodic methodology. Charles seems, for the moment, musically possessed.

       The next composition, “Repercussions,” kicks off with Dafnis smokin’ his nimble drum set. Dafnis achieves such superior technique, on what today’s standards would be a small drum kit. In this case, size is irrelevant: talent, creativity and desire are! Dafnis’ devilish smile encapsulates a brilliant percussive mindset. His drum feature simmers, and then smokes, as the trio builds into an upbeat swing tempo. This arrangement displays true team inspiration. The song builds and builds with Michel’s impeccable finger rolls and left hand accents. The music is at a fevers pitch, as Michel’s hands are all a blur. Charles bass feature is melodically sensitive, as he ‘skats’ along with his bass lines. Charles and Michel work off each other to fire the musical flames. Dafnis is sizzling hot with left hand rolls between the tom-tom and bass drum. Dafnis’ percussive creativity is unmistakably illustrated with the accents on his tiny splash cymbal, stupendous!

       “Con Alma,” written by Dizzy Gillespie, starts slow, quiet and grandiose. The reflective musical development is tender, tasteful and transcendent. Dafnis elegantly uses the multi rods brush sticks for percussive texture. The trio jells with mutual inspiration. There is something so very, very special about spontaneous, dynamic human interaction. The bouncy swing is both warm and cozy. Charles’ fingers right hand triplets, as he and Dafnis quietly groove. There is an incredibly delicate touch displayed mutually here.

       “Caribe” is the next composition, and is the title of this performance at Zankel Hall. This tune was initially conceived at brunch on Columbus Avenue. Michel describes his arrival in America in 1979 and his love for Sandra, his wife. He discusses his musical training at Juilliard and Mannes College, and being mentored by George Wein. “Caribe” was recorded by Dizzy Gillespie. Michel begins with a fiery piano introduction, which evolves to elegant, majestic and touching melodic expression. The mood is thoughtful, reverent, clear and concise. The imaginative melody builds and quiets respectfully. At crescendos, Michel executes blazing two-hand rolls and quiets down to dynamic stops. This is incredible precision, percussive execution. Charles challenges the upper register in double time. Dafnis is now in a percussive frenzy. He plays an incredible solo and wows the audience with an answer/response passage with Michel. This joyful and challenging musical interchange is a highlight of every show. The interplay gets hotter and hotter, as the musical challenge bar is raised ever so much more! The musical accents are remarkable.

       A standing ovation erupts as Michel stands to thank the audience. The trio joins at center stage to bow together. The trio exits and rejoins the stage for an encore song, “Liquid Crystal.” Dafnis is delicate, as Charles plays long sustain bass notes. Michel’s creative inspiration is a true testament to his musical mentors. Charles and Dafnis carry on the melody, as Michel plays wistfully with clever and creative melodic accents. Dafnis finishes with a subtle and reserved solo. Dafnis imaginatively displays spatial exuberance through celestial seasoning.

       The audience stands for a final tribute of their appreciation for tonight’s exceptional performance. The Michel Camilo trio reigns victorious at Zankel Hall.

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A.J. Alfaro