Nine years ago, I coined him as "The Impeccable Michel Camilo." Impeccable still holds true today, but with the release of his 2011 Decca/EmArcy (Universal Music Group) CD, Mano a Mano, I hear so much more. There is a maturity of a road well-traveled, an elegance of soul, and majesty of spirit within Camilo's music and performance. When you listen, you understand this is a man who has reached the pinnacle of musical excellence.
A virtuoso pianist, Michel Camilo unleashes boundless creativity with everything he touches. Be it classical, Latin, film or all that is jazz, his mastery of genres is well-noted within a stream of outstanding CDs and performances worldwide. Mano a Mano, however, is the rich cultural essence of the master that satisfies listeners like a mouth watering dish of Sancocho.
What is even more delicious, Mano a Mano came together as a result of Michel's appearance at the 20th anniversary of the Heineken Jazz Festival in Puerto Rico where his trio performed. Part of the 2010 event was a huge descarga (Latin-style jam session). Michel had invited master conguero Giovanni Hidalgo to participate and at one point during the jam, the band stopped and Giovanni and Michel were left playing as a duo. This began Michel's thinking process for the album.
With master conguero GiovanniHidalgoand long time bassist/collaborator Charles Flores, Michel's trio melds a variety of rhythms into something that leaps off the disc. Eight original compositions (that amazingly were written by Camilo within the span of one week) and three standards comprise the eleven tracks. "It was a surreal experience," says Camilo, "It was only a matter of sitting down and letting it flow out." And within the rich ethnic mix of Dominican, Puerto Rican and Cuban cultures, it flows in earnest with an underlying sophistication. This is not ordinary fare.
Normally, one would expect some songs to stand out over others, but this is simply not the case. Track after track, each song is an exploration in excellence offering a wide variety of rhythms, textures and melodies; samba-choro, neo traditional rumbas, Afro-Cubanism, Latin soul and boogaloo, surprising meringue-jazz and Camilo's take on a bachata, with his exquisite ballad "You and Me.
HidalgoandFloreswere absolute essentials to the mix and more than complimented Camilo every step of the way. There is some truly outstanding musicianship going on with surprises at every turn. Hidalgoused five and six congas and tuned them to certain pitches creating melody and harmony along with rhythmic patterns you wouldn't believe. The results are simply amazing.Flores' bass solos were imaginative and cleverly conceived and did I hear bowing on "Then and Now?" Incredible!
The mix is exceptional. The trio raises the heat, and then cools you off like a subtle breeze. You will find the light and playful with "Sidewinder" and a pensive mystery with "Then and Now." The title song, "Mano a Mano" (personal confrontation or face-to-face encounter) is just as the title suggests with mind blowing, harmonious interplay that sets this album apart from most. And on "Rice and Beans," Camilo is so thrilling on the piano with his quintillo (a five note rhythmic figure) it's like the first time hearingSegovia play a tremolo. You are speechless! Then after listening to Camilo's intimate portrayal on "Alfonsina y el Mar," your love affair with the entire CD is assured.
Michel Camilo is a genius and Mano a Mano is evidence thereof. From beginning to end, it has "nomination" written all over it.
Don't miss the opportunity to add this outstanding CD to your library. Digital release is available July 26, 2011. CD will hit the shelves on September 13, 2011.