Michel Camilo – Mano A Mano

by | Sep 12, 2011 | Jazz CD Reviews

Michel Camilo – Mano A Mano – EmArcy/Decca (no number) [9/13/11] [Distr. by Universal] *****:
(Michel Camilo, piano; Giovanni Hidalgo, congas & percussion; Charles Flores, doublebass)
Pianist/composer Michel Camilo hails from the Dominican Republic and moved to the U.S. in 1979, after studying at that country’s National Conservatory and being a member of their National Symphony. He is yet another of today’s musical artists who is equally trained and proficient in both the classical and jazz worlds. He says his experiences performing standard repertory as well as his own classical works in European classical settings has made him a better and more subtle pianist.  He performed a series of piano recitals in Europe in 1996 and in 1998 he premiered his Piano Concerto in Washington, D.C. with Leonard Slatkin conducting. Several of his jazz albums have reached No. 1 in radio airplay. His 2003 Telarc CD won a Grammy as Best Latin Jazz Album.
This new release shows Camilo’s optimistic high-energy approach, with a change in the usual piano trio setup. He got master Puerto Rican conguero Giovanni Hidalgo to play not only his five or six tuned conga drums (tuned to a scale) but also other smaller percussion, and no trap drums. His longtime bassist Charles Flores is Cuban. So the trio brings together three similar but different Afro-Caribbean traditions in music. Camilo says of Giovanni that he doesn’t only hear the rhythm, but also the melody and harmony. And of Charles he values the bassist’s sense of space and harmonic concept. He finds his work on bass to be in the Charlie Haden tradition.
Michel’s own “Yes” opens the disc, combining modern jazz with the Afro-Caribbean slant. The second track is Lee Morgan’s “The Sidewinder,” and it’s most interesting to hear it with just the piano trio instead of Morgan’s trumpet that I just reviewed. The accent is less on the melody and more on the variety of Latin rhythms that can be infused into the continuing rhythmic ostinato, with contributions by all three players.
The whole album explores a couple of musical styles from the Dominican Republic. The first is a sort of ballad, the bachata, heard in the track “You and Me.” The other is the two-step dance, the merengue, using a five-note rhythmic figure.  It is reworked in “Rice and Beans.”  The next-to-last track, “Rumba Pa’Ti,” is a sly variation on the usual rumba, and yet another Camilo original.  Sonics are first rate, with the added melodic impact of the tuned congas clearly discernable.
Yes, The Sidewinder, Then and Now, Mano A Mano, You and Me, Rice and Beans, Naima, No Left Turn, Alfonsina Y El Mar, Rumba Pa’Ti, About you.
—John Henry

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