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Michel Camilo: Mano a Mano

Jeff Tamarkin reviews pianist Michel Camilo's 'Mano a Mano' trio album

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Michel Camilo has always been especially comfortable with trios, and although he has occasionally detoured from the format-2005’s self-explanatory Solo and his two duet albums with flamenco guitarist Tomatito come to mind-several of his most durable projects have been restricted to the fallback piano-bass-drums configuration. Mano a Mano is just that, but unlike 2007’s Spirit of the Moment, his last U.S. release, the drums this time are of the hand variety-no traps in sight. It’s a good match: Camilo, who is from the Dominican Republic, finds an instant rapport with conguero Giovanni Hidalgo on the set’s opener, simply titled “Yes.” With bassist Charles Flores reprising his contribution from that last trio session, Camilo is at ease-flamboyance is kept at bay-and simultaneously excited to explore the possibilities of the new setup.

The majority of the 11 numbers are penned by Camilo. Some tunes-especially the fiery Latin jam “No Left Turn” and the bass-propelled, skittering title track-give the pianist ample opportunities to feed off of the intricacies of Hidalgo’s rhythms and weave elaborate runs into deceivingly simple structures. Among the few covers, Coltrane’s “Naima” is airy and loose, a tropical breeze of a rendition, while the Lee Morgan perennial “The Sidewinder” puts a guiro into Hidalgo’s hands for the duration, furthering the album’s pervasive Caribbean vibe.

Camilo, who also produced, mics the instruments closely and eliminates virtually all traces of reverb, and the resultant in-your-face texture gives Mano a Mano an irrefutable intimacy. At times it feels almost too close, but ultimately that airtight audio serves to enhance the clarity and immediacy of the performances.

Originally Published