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Michel Camilo: Live at the Blue Note

Two CDs of Michel Camilo’s astounding piano technique can almost be too much of a good thing. Recorded over four nights in March of this year with his trio, the 18 performances pull out all the stops, with rhythms and counter rhythms dancing over one another, occasionally putting the downbeat in a state of suspended animation. Just when things start to sound too busy, however, Camilo and company shift gears, bringing the groove back down to earth or changing the pace with a ballad. (“Silent Talk” being one of the best of the slow numbers due to the pianist’s gorgeously flowing lines.)

This recording marks the first time Camilo-a native of the Dominican Republic-has recorded with an all-Cuban rhythm section. His drummer of eight years, Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez, should almost receive co-billing for the drive he brings to the set, along with bassist Charles Flores, who joined the band four months prior to the live set.

“Dichotomy,” one of the CD’s newer compositions, presents a template for the trio’s work. It shifts with little transition between tricky time signatures and straighter grooves before settling into a medium tempo that builds in intensity before Hernandez takes over with a thunderous solo. Responding to audience noises, Camilo tosses off a reharmonized “Happy Birthday” that segues into a solo version of Kenny Dorham’s “Blue Bossa.” The way he casually pulls off this precise solo makes the performance all the more impressive.

One quality of “Blue Bossa” that turns up repeatedly through the set is Camilo’s remarkable left-hand technique. In “Mongo’s Blues” both his hands appear to play different rhythms, neither corresponding exactly to Hernandez’s beat. Yet everything manages to lock up and move along without sounding like the players are merely flaunting their chops.

Aside from a chopped up version of “Tequila” that sounds a little close to novelty, Live at the Blue Note offers more than enough to satisfy fans of el ritmo.

Originally Published