Michel Camilo – Live In London – Redondo Music

A glowing live concert by a master pianist!

Michel Camilo – Live In London – Redondo Music 191924129394, 53:35 ****1/2;

(Michel Camilo – piano)

Michel Camilo has released his first live solo piano album, Live In London. The Dominican Republic native has established a reputation as a versatile (duo, trio, sextet, big band, symphony) jazz performer with a dedicated, relentless style of instrumental prowess. This seven track performance showcases original compositions and covers. As with many pianists, there is an elevated energy in solo projects and especially live performances. Live In London is no exceptions. On his previous solo piano projects (Solo/Telarc 2005 and What’s Up?/Okeh 2013), Camilo demonstrated a passionate, complex approach to interpretation. Recorded at Queen Elizabeth Hall in 2015, the long-awaited concert performance is finally available. Beginning with the trill-laden melancholy of “From Within”, Camilo is comfortable  showcasing both his high-level technical expertise and overall command of musical genres. This track (unusual for its considerable length as a set-opener) varies in tempo with exquisite right hand notation. With a classically structured first part, the pianist injects a tango-like bravado with sweeping emphasis and subtle interludes. The intensity is always revisited and crescendos punctuate throughout. In a near slow-jazz bounce groove, “The Frim Fram Sauce” (a Nat “King” Cole classic), Camilo shows off his bluesy resonance and technical acumen. His playing style is expansive, and the languid (for Camilo anyway) higher-register run is impressive.

In the first of three consecutive original compositions, “A Place In Time” is brooding and has a cinematic feel to it. The simple treble lines are precise and complement the moody arrangement with agile melody runs and swirling flourishes. Even on a change of pace, Camilo’s eminent translation is powerful. There is an underlying hypnotic fluency with palpable lyricism and a hushed high-register trill at the finish. “Island Beat” is a festive Caribbean party with infectious rhythm patterns and dizzying signature piano flashes. His sprightly cadence has syncopation and unrestrained passion. Switching gears, “Sandra’s Serenade” is haunting, with melancholic imagery. The jazzy chord changes are intriguing, and the articulation is nothing short of flawless.

In homage to Dizzy Gillespie, “Manteca” is a compelling selection. Gillespie was a pioneer in the development of Afro-Cuban jazz. “Manteca” (slang for marijuana) has the explosive qualities of bebop with complex tempos (co-written by legendary percussionist Chano Pozzo). Camilo’s performance is hard-driving and he brings the song to a furious conclusion after breathless solo work and swing transitions. As a worthy medley finale, Camilo chooses iconic works from George Gershwin (“I Got Rhythm”), Duke Ellington (“Caravan”) and Benny Goodman by way of Louis Prima (“Sing Sing Sing”). Jazz and classical musicians revere Gershwin. “I Got Rhythm” was the inspiration for the Charlie Parker/Dizzy Gillespie bebop standard, “Anthropology”. Camilo eschews an up-tempo, freewheeling arrangement. The song helped introduce improvisation to certain jazz structures. At the 4:26 Camilo morphs into “Caravan”. With more than 350 recorded versions of this Duke Ellington/Juan Tizo piece of history, Camilo manages to adopt the exotic shadings, but provide instrumental fireworks. “Sing Sing Sing” was the pillar of Benny Goodman’s Big Band. With the wailing of Harry James and Ziggy Ellman, the nearly nine-minute song took up both sides of a 78 r.p.m. shellac. Camilo adds a jazzy flair and the propulsive dynamics of the composition permeate this cover. Like any great jazz musician. Camilo reinvents the song to his own context and skills.

The overall sound of this recording is very good. The microphone placement in the piano effectively captures the tonal ranges. The crisp sharpness of the treble is distinct, and the higher volumes of the crashing chords are captured evenly.

TrackList: 
From Within
The Firm Fram Sauce
A Place In Time
Island Beat
Sandra’s Serenade
Manteca
I Got Rhythm/Caravan/Sing Sing Sing

—Robbie Gerson

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