Michel Camilo Trio
The Blue Note, February 24, 2004:
Kathy and I travel into Manhattan to see the Michel Camilo Trio. This is Michel’s triumphant return to The Blue Note after his recent Grammy win for Best Latin Jazz Album: “ Live at The Blue Note,” Michel Camilo with Charles Flores and Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez. We meet our very dear friend Chris La Rosa at the door. Very soon thereafter we also meet Michel and his lovely wife, Sandra. This encounter is so warm and genuine that it clearly reaffirms the tremendously special human nature of both individuals, which comes out over and over in Michel’s music.
We go inside when the doors open and sit right in front of Michel and the stage to truly experience the musical magic. We soon meet Chris’s close friend Captain Al Smith, a pilot with American Airlines. We joke about the fact that I have never flown. Kathy and I are here tonight on a press pass +1, thanks to Kim Smith and Agnes Ruiz. Thank you both, so very much. We have a sumptuous dinner, as the food is superior and the portions are generous. Maxine, who is exceptionally good, serves us tonight. We soon meet Chris’s parents, Rory and Julius La Rosa, who are extremely nice. As we approach show time, the club is full and the mood is electric as we await the return of Michel Camilo to this famous jazz music venue.
At 8:14 P.M. Michel begins with a piano intro that is measured and methodically weaves a feeling of happiness and joy. As the sound builds, “El Negro” plays a subtle and funky snare routine while Charles walks his bass firm and strong. The first song is, “Cocowalk.” Michel is soon intensely performing a melodically percussive blur; much like what “El Negro” is playing on his trap set. Furiously fast note runs, crescendos and glissandos flow from Michel’s fingers like musical water flows from an effervescent fountain. At the end of this sudden burst of musical imagery and spontaneous energy, I tell Michel, “Don’t hurt yourself,” and we slap five in a moment of emotional joy. Michel addresses the audience to say: “Cocowalk” is akin to New Orleans with rice and beans.
“Two Of A Kind” follows and portrays a sultry, sexy and moody change into a comfortable musical groove. “El Negro” plays the reverse stick on his snare for that succinct and clear backbeat. Michel fashions a gorgeous musical painting with a chord melody that depicts ecstasy and bliss with clarity of thought, focused musical meaning, and firm intent. The band embraces complete dynamic control. “El Negro” rides triplets on the cymbal, delicately and confidently, as Charles bass focuses the creative muscle. Large magnificent piano chords are melded into sparse and well-conceived euphonic lines. Charles bass solo balances melodic and rhythmic attack with well-chosen notes and careful phrasing. The blended sound is majestic and celestial.
Michel begins the next musical piece with a solo piano intro of melodic mayhem with joyful exuberance. This composition is, “Hello and Goodbye.” “El Negro” is very percussive with Charles super melodic, alternating lightning fast scale bursts and exaggerated rhythmic accents. Michel holds back, as the bass and drums play in a tasteful musical passage together. Michel soon jumps back in and cooks the keyboard in a fantastic frenzy of mind-boggling sensory display of talent. “El Negro” plays 5/4 meter with his left foot. He executes the ‘three’ on the hi-hat and the ‘two’ on the foot control cowbell. Amazing! Michel plays two handed melodically percussive rolls alternating crescendos and slower thoughtful expression, in a very controlled dynamic flow.
Michel starts “The Magic In You,” very halting and heavenly. His playing is thoughtful, reserved and romantic, and embodies transcendent chord beauty. The musical picture is both elegant and somehow sad, with a thoughtful resolve, mixing crescendos and cut time in a very balanced dynamic contrast. Michel modulates between key signatures quite effortlessly. “El Negro” complements the mood with delicate and clear brushwork featuring controlled percussive effects, as Charles is strong on bass with carefully chosen notes. Michel alludes to Ellington with large and grandiose chords boldly stated with the assured confidence of a master. The sound is demure, majestic, grand and very refined. The band plays subdued for the entire piece, which is slightly out of character for this ensemble.
Michel introduces the next song as the quintessential “Tequila.” The piano and drums begin to play that familiar sound on the reserved side of the musical coin. There is excellent use of rests for clarity of content. Fun and merriment abounds as the dynamic weaves from smooth and slick to ultra staccato, so very sharp and choppy. “El Negro” effortlessly executes cowbell rolls and woodblock accents both at double and cut time, with a playful dynamic interplay between the drums and piano. He takes an outstanding percussion solo, exuding confidence, control and incredible chops!
“Dichotomy” is next. Here goes “El Negro!” He alternates his left foot between the hi-hat and cowbell, utilizing one stroke on each, while playing incredible percussive flourishes and emotionally charged rolls, with endless triplets on the ride cymbal all simultaneously! Just how many drummers are there here tonight? He continues an amazing drum solo of flurried percussive excitement, seamlessly blended with cut time control and unrelenting musical focus. The band is really swinging.
Michel changes the intensity to slow, moody, melancholy, thoughtful and reserved, by alternating minor mode with major mode inklings for a colorful musical contrast as he goes into, “Thinking Of You.” This is an exquisite musical painting: reflective, introspective and majestic. “El Negro” uses mallets for a subdued and more rounded percussive sound, complemented by a sublimely sustained sizzle cymbal effect and clever woodblock treatment. Michel employs large sustain chords for elegance and beauty. Charles bass solo is outstanding with aggressive rhythm attack, guided by controlled melodic movement and well timed crescendo runs. He plays the top of the fretless standup bass with the reckless abandon of confidence, assured experience and control.
The next composition embraces a heavy Latin flavored piano intro that begins, “From Within.” The musical impression is somewhat somber with a touch of sadness, resolve and clarity. Michel displays emotional exuberance contrasted with quiet reflection and melancholy and dramatic expression. The chorus is heavy and pronounced and makes a dramatic musical statement. Michel’s hands completely blur as he rolls percussively throughout the melodic changes. The bass and drums combine into a oneness of musical thought, which clearly showcases the musical virtuosity of the artists at hand. As Michel hits amazingly emotional accents, the drums and bass cast a complete mirror without any hesitation or pause. “El Negro” is an incredible display of amazing talent with incredible rolls and limitless polyrhythmic abilities all around. Underneath, he plays 5/4 meter with his left foot on the cowbell, while reaching a dynamic percussive crescendo that leaves the audience stunned and out of breath.
And, this is just the first set…
Michel Camilo is a true musical genius for our time, right here and now! He and his band of merry men, Charles Flores and Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez, are taking jazz performance to creative extremes never before seen and quite possibly, never achieved again!
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