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Michel Camilo: Rhapsody in Blue

Because they involve an orchestra in addition to the solo piano, George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and “Piano Concerto in D” have typically been played by classical pianists, who gamely try to simulate Gershwin’s jazz instincts using Chopin-style rubato and a lot of guessing. Now comes Michel Camilo, an actual jazz pianist with classical training in his back pocket, who plays the solo parts with fearsome virtuosity and a free, spontaneous approach to rhythm, dynamics and timbre.

Guess what? An electricity runs through his performances that’s rare to hear in this music–in fact, in the ultimate classical accomplishment, Camilo makes you think back to how these works must have sounded in their first performances, with Gershwin himself scandalizing the bluebloods by laying down the blues with the ultimate European art-music band backing him up.

Gershwin actually improvised most of the “Rhapsody” at the premiere, and Camilo’s playful and fleet yet lyrical performance captures that energy of creation, while the piano concerto, a somewhat wayward work, actually sounds tauter than normal with the increased spark at its center. With a bonus solo track of Gershwin’s “Prelude No. 2,” spirited accompaniment by the Barcelona Symphony under Ernest Martinez Izquierdo and typically superb Telarc sound, Camilo’s readings of these works should be a first choice for classical and jazz fans alike.

Originally Published