Review: Michel Camilo at Ronnie Scott’s




Dave Jones encounters a force of nature in pianist Michel Camilo, his mix of musical fireworks and blistering cadenzas earning a standing ovation.

My previous attempt to see pianist/composer Michel Camilo with his Trio in April 2010 was foiled by a force of nature (the Icelandic ash cloud), but on Friday 10 May at 8.30pm at Ronnie Scott’s I encountered a different force of nature, this time a musical one, in the shape of Camilo alongside drummer Cliff Almond and bassist Lincoln Goines.

On this occasion, Camilo’s set (entirely of his own compositions except for Alfonsina Y El Mar by A. Ramirez) was drawn from three of his studio albums spanning over two decades (Mano A Mano from 2011, Spirit Of The Moment from 2007, and On Fire from 1989), but it focused mainly on material from the more recent of these together with See You Later which was commissioned for and first performed at the 2002 San Francisco Jazz Festival, and appeared on his 2003 Live At The Blue Note album.

This was the first time that I’d heard Camilo on a club date, having previously enjoyed the BBC Proms UK premiere of his Concerto For Piano And Orchestra in 2001 at the Royal Albert Hall with the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin. What was striking at Ronnie’s on Friday, despite the small-group context, was the often orchestral sound of his trio, and the huge dynamic range achieved from extremely delicate piano solo introductions through to the musical fireworks of the exchanges between Camilo and Almond that punctuated this memorable set. Rarely have I heard Ronnie’s so quiet during piano introductions, with the nature of Camilo’s performance demanding the attention of the audience.
 
There’s an element of performance drama about Camilo’s part-functional mopping of his brow with one hand and playing the keyboard with the other during solo piano introductions, as if he were an operatic tenor recovering from a physically and mentally demanding period of singing during orchestral interludes. It’s really all part of the show from someone who with great success brings the performance demeanour of the classical concert hall to the jazz club. This was an intense, relentless and physically demanding performance of some 85 minutes which the trio were to simulate later that evening. Given the demanding nature of his compositions and jazz piano style, it says much of Camilo that he has the pianistic stamina (born of a formidable technique) to sustain this level of intensity for so long.
 
The set opened with a recent Camilo composition Yes, an up-tempo Latin number that ended with a quote of the closing phrase from Ellington’s Take The A Train, followed by the first of a number of beautifully impressionistic and reflective piano introductions, this time leading into My Secret Place with lyrical and expressive bowed bass from Goines, and closing with rhapsodic piano. Almond’s explosive drum solo introduction then took us into the minor blues-orientated Repercussions, where an instance of the aforementioned orchestral fireworks between Camilo and Almond virtually shook the room. Besides a standing ovation at the end, there was also time in this set of nicely varied material (with continuity) for Camilo’s trademark high-speed squeaky-clean octaves, montunos, modal Tyneresque outbursts, and the occasional tremelando, together with a brief venture into the edge of atonality, and finally a blistering cadenza towards the end of the tumultuous closer On Fire. This was a most desirable musical force of nature.

Photo © michaelblack | BLACK SUN®


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