Michel Camilo Trio at The Blue Note

Michel Camilo Trio


The Blue Note, March 20, 2003:


       Kathy & I take the train into Manhattan. I had gotten a very welcome call from Chris La Rosa a few days ago and we are meeting him at the show tonight. It is pouring rain and we are going into New York under a heightened nationwide orange alert due to the start of the war with Iraq, Operation Iraqi Freedom. The ride on the train is completely no sweat. We walk over to the club in the pouring rain and go inside before the doors open. The staff accommodates us due to the heavy downpour. By 6:00 P.M. we are about to find a table, when Chris arrives. We exchange hugs and introductions to my wife, Kathy.

       Chris, Kathy & I sit at a table right in front of the piano. We have drinks and appetizers. Gwen serves us tonight and she is sharp, attentive and epitomizes the professional demeanor of The Blue Note staff. Kathy & I are on the guest list tonight thanks to Agnes Ruiz who made the arrangements for us. Thank you Agnes. We all sit and chat for a while before we have dinner. The food is delicious and the service is marvelous. We see Michel and Sandra briefly before the show and the feeling is warm and genuine. Kathy is radiant tonight and seems to have shaken off the war jitters.

       The Michel Camilo Trio begins to play at 8:16 P.M. On standup bass is Charles Flores and on the drums is Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez. Michel Camilo starts with, “Cocowalk.” The standup bass intro is loose and cool, and the bass notes are solid and ‘fat.’ “El Negro” focuses on an inventive snare routine, with wood block and cowbell. Michel comps with the left hand while effortlessly playing percussive melodic development with the right. This is an excellent opening tune. Michel speaks to the audience after the first number. He informs up that these Blue Note gigs are being recorded for an upcoming double ‘live’ CD set.

       The next composition, “At Night,” is Brazilian. Michel’s piano intro paints a quiet and serious mood. Additionally, the attack level is delicate, gentle, moody and serene, and the melodic feel is subtle and silky. The drums carry a smooth jazz ride and the bass walks steadily and assured. There is a cut-time change that is syncopated and strong and then a return to the slick, melodic and light jazz feel again. “El Negro” reverses his stick on the snare to emphasize the Latin meter attributes. The band is very smooth and fluid throughout the beautiful melody, syncopated rhythms, accents and rhythmic changes. Michel performs melodic arpeggios and percussive chord melodies, at times pounding and slapping the keys with his right hand very emotionally!


Michel Camilo


Photo: ©A.J. Alfaro

       Song three, “Dichotomy,” is about growing up in New York City after coming here from Santo Domingo. The song comes from Michel’s apprentice learning experiences received in Art Blakey’s Band playing at Mikells. Art Blakey is well known for being an excellent teacher, who has groomed so many fine jazz musicians over the years. The piano intro is super percussive with sustain chords that are dreamy and majestic. A cut-time change is employed for contrast and dynamic emphasis. The rhythmic piano attack is purposely staggered and uneven for emotional elevation. “El Negro” takes a drum solo that is incredible. His approach features naturally fluid polyrhythmic execution from his ability to play four completely independent meters simultaneously and then blazing fast rolls that move about the drum set quite effortlessly. The band carries through with a smokin’ jazz walk, creative melodic development, challenging percussive changes and structure, further complemented by dissonant chord melodies.

       The next composition, "The Magic In You," starts with a piano intro that is slow and sensual. “El Negro” plays with brushes that are delicate, articulate and tasteful. The melodic development is feather-light touch, sensitive and sincere. The ensemble sound is quiet, controlled, slow and thoughtful. Michel executes an amazingly colorful melody with creatively unique voicings. This music is a glistening picture painted with melodic serenity, which is very reserved, and utilizes great space for profoundly deep effect. Charles Flores exhibits his virtuoso musical abilities with a bass solo that seamlessly blends clever rhythmic attack, melodic content, and dynamic control, exquisite! Charles creates melodic grace and charm while displaying poise, thought and beauty.


Charles Flores


Photo: ©A.J. Alfaro

       The next arrangement of, “Tequila,” the classic rock composition, is humorous and inventive. The melody is rhythmically enhanced to the extreme Latin flavor. Michel has a super light and airy touch with great utilization of rests for space. He executes a percussive chord attack that is funky, inventive and creative. This musical interpretation puts a smile on everyone’s face. The band modulates from inside to outside for rhythmic and melodic contrast. “El Negro” is extremely percussive on cowbell and wood block. He executes incredible syncopation and rhythmically intuitive genius. His tiny splash cymbal cuts through it all with clever double accents thrown in for fun.

       Song six is the amazing composition, “Why Not!” The piano intro is playful and melodic, with left hand chord melodies flowing while simultaneously maintaining incredible rhythmically challenging melodic arpeggios with the right hand. Michel tops all this with emotionally charged right hand chord slapping on the keyboard for an additional display of his performance genius. This tune is super light and happy. “El Negro” executes stupendous drumming skills. Michel and “El Negro” complement each other and provoke spontaneous musical creativity, while challenging each other with successive musical outbursts. At times, the creative emotion is climaxing with Michel playing percussive chord rolls with both hands. Both hands are blurring with the firey speed of amazing virtuosity, the likes of which no one playing piano today can be easily compared. We are all standing after this trip into musical orbit. Michel comes over to slap me five as I yell with utter enthusiasm!


Michel Camilo


Photo: ©A.J. Alfaro

       The next song, "Two of a Kind," is calming and slower with soothing sensual chord development. The music begins large and grand as the bass walks solid and clean. “El Negro” plays smooth cymbal triplets and utilizes the reverse stick on the snare for that succinct Latin rhythmic sound. The melody is clean, gracious, and delicate and conveys a smooth melodic feel. Charles Flores takes a tremendous bass solo peppered with sporatic and colorful piano and drum accompaniment.

       Song eight is called, “On Fire.” As you might expect from the title and the musicians, this composition is out of control! Michel’s piano solo intro is an incredible melody with challenging percussive delivery. He delivers furious melodic flourishes and arpeggios with reckless abandon. The fullest dynamic range is expounded upon from quiet and slow to full and almost violently percussive. Michel creatively mixes, and can control, double-time two hand chord rolls contrasted with cut-time quiet chordal passages simultaneously and indiscriminately. “El Negro” plays seamless, searing polyrhythmic patterns on the drums, cymbals, cowbell and wood block that are spectacular. Michel and “El Negro” perform a virtuoso answer/response conversation to each other, speaking in musical tongues of incredible depth and creativity. Michel’s two-hand chord rolls are blurring to the vision. “El Negro” responds with ever increasingly dazzling solo passages, displaying his incredible genius percussive mastery. I don’t think I have ever witnessed anything quite like this amazing musical dialogue of percussive piano and drummer together. Words cannot adequately describe what the eyes and ears can see and hear.

       The audience is totally gassed and stands to cheer this marvelous musical vision. Michel Camilo, Charles Flores and Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez are spectacular. This is truly a musical moment in heaven that we have just witnessed.

       The Blue Note graciously extends an invitation to stay for a second set for free. We all rejoice in amazement. Chris, Kathy & I will certainly stay for the second show. Unfortunately, we took the train and will have to leave early, but we’ll catch as much as we can. Michel and Sandra invite us up to visit, in the dressing room upstairs. Michel is gracious and warm and displays the kind and engaging human being he is, which is true to his beautiful character and displayed in his amazing music. He generously and patiently stands for several photos. I get pictures that are memorable with both Michel and “El Negro.” Kathy gets her picture taken with someone she has admired for years, Michel Camilo.


Kathy, Michel Camilo, Chris


Photo: ©A.J. Alfaro


Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez, A.J. Alfaro


Photo: ©Kathleen Alfaro


A.J. Alfaro, Michel Camilo, Chris La Rosa


Photo: ©Kathleen Alfaro

       We move even closer to the piano for the second set. Chris, Kathy & I are bubbling with joy at the chance to sit for the second set, how amazing! Chris is joined by a beautiful young actress, Roberta Wallach. She is Eli Wallach’s daughter and plays a recurring roll in The Sopranos as Stella.


       The SECOND SET starts with, “On The Other Hand.” The musical mood is quiet and demure. The piano intro is melodic, sweet, select and reserved. The musical mood soon changes to a funky jazz calypso rhythm with a left hand comping chord melody and the right hand becoming a dissonant melodic and percussive blur.

       The second tune is called, “At Night.” A mysterious chord melody is played featuring nice solid jazz drums with a bass that is low and full. Dynamic musical extremes are displayed from quiet, moody, sensitive and cool to funky, upbeat, energetic and wild complemented by light jazz cymbal technique.

       Song three is, “Dichotomy.” This tune is mysterious, funky and hot with a smooth jazz walking bass line. The piano features percussive accents with a solo that is sexy and provocative. “El Negro” plays a drum solo that is spectacular. He is actually getting even more incredible as he has warmed up through two sets, if that can be humanly possible.

       Song four, “Twilight Glow,” is quiet and soft with lots of space. The melody is romantic, sensitive, serene and full of suspense. Charles Flores bass is excellent. His solo blends rhythmic attack with arpeggio runs between nicely placed rests. Quite a dreamy mood prevails throughout this composition.

       The last song we are able to stay for is, “This Way Out.” “El Negro” does a drum solo intro, again displaying his amazing genius performance abilities. The song has an excellent groove with smooth cymbal ride triplets and strong creative walking bass. Michel’s piano solo is both melodic and percussive. Charles bass solo is outstanding and “El Negro’s” drum solo is spectacular. We all stand after this incredible musical display.

       Kathy & I have to run to the last train home. I am able to thank Chris La Rosa and Sandra Camilo. I am able to say thanks and goodbye to Michel before his next tune. We shake hands and briefly hug, before Kathy & I  have to leave.

       The Michel Camilo Trio puts on a performance tonight that words can barely describe. The total performance genius of everyone in the band is collectively displayed in ensemble interchange and individually displayed by all the different solo efforts.  One must witness this to totally understand. The ‘live’ CD that will be produced from these performances at The Blue Note will truly be a musical work of art. Capturing these ‘live’ performances will definitely be something to cherish for all time. These sessions will be something that jazz history can hold to its highest acclaim.

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A.J. Alfaro