After 24 years of enlivening U.S. performances with his technically astounding facility on the piano, as he blends classical, jazz and Latin styles learned in his native Santo Domingo, Michel Camilo finally has recorded his first live album. On Live at the Blue Note,
the listener gets a sense not only of the boundless energy of Camilo’s trio, but also of its electrifying effect on an audience as he performed throughout the week of March 19 earlier this year. And Camilo’s trio
really is the notable aspect of the CD, as his empathy with bassist Charles Flores and drummer Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez reaches again and again generates sparks of spontaneity that come together into a finished piece of cliff-hanging suspense. With the feedback from and the encouragement of the Blue Note’s audience, Camilo’s trio elicits such joy of entertaining that such joy is palpable even on the CD as the interaction with the audience becomes evident again and again.Live at the Blue Note
gives a sense of Camilo’s insights as a composer in addition to his ferocity as a performer. As he accomplishes metrical feats that seem effortless but in reality can be played by only the most accomplished pianists, Camilo brings to life his complex compositions with an extroversion that considers the interests of his audience, roaring in applause after each number. From his comments in the liner notes, Camilo is particularly pleased with the results of his tune, "Dichotomy," which includes one change of tempo and mood after another, from a rousing and clattering introduction vamp-based introduction to the quarter-note push of Flores before a segue into Camilo’s dramatic, choppy statement played in octaves.
But Camilo’s weeklong work included more than thrilling Latin grooves. "Silent Talk" and "The Magic in You" remind listeners of Camilo’s ability to craft a ballad with sensitivity and calming effect through relaxed resolution of melody into logical conclusion, as if a narrative.
Even when Camilo teases the audience with familiarity, as on "Tequila" (which is greeted with applause and shouts of "Tequila!"), he plays the tune in 7/4, never quite making it predictable enough for singing along and still adding intrigue through the chopping off of the eighth note of the two measures. "Happy Birthday" resolves into "Blue Bossa" as well, the splicing of tunes so seamless that "Blue Bossa" isn’t recognized until the trio is into the song for a few measures.
With the inclusion of Cuban-born Flores and Hernandez, though, Camilo has formed a trio that is much larger than the sum of its parts. Listen as Hernandez always seems to know where Camilo is going with a solo, embellishing concluding accents with shimmering cymbals and bass drum strikes in exact timing with Camilo’s chords. Like many other famous piano trios where the telepathy among members makes their work unforgettable, Camilo’s is on a comparable high level, the members being right for heightening the trio’s total effect on an audience.
Quite unlike other Latin pianists in his own style that combines instrumental mastery with clearly conceived melodic direction, Michel Camilo has found the recording environment that best suits the excitement that he generates when he plays: the live nightclub audience. Live at the Blue Note
showcases Camilo’s trio in over 2 hours of playing that, despite its length, still leaves the listener wishing for more. Such is the mesmerizing attraction of Michel Camilo’s music.