Michel Camilo: From Out of the Tumult

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Spirit of the Moment is everything it’s title implies – a work of art whose inspiration originated at some higher plane. The eight original tracks were written in eight days, says Michel Camilo, and most of what made the final cut were first takes. “It was unbelievable,” he says. “I just sat down and wrote all this music in a short time. It just flowed out of me. And yet, great care was taken with the details and the various textures. The more you listen, the more you will discover how deep this album is.”

Altos de ChavonOver the Casa de Campo hills in La Romana (Dominican Republic) lies Altos de Chavón, a very special, unreal place. A balcony atop the town affords a breathtaking view of the Chavón River. It was there that Francis Ford Coppola filmed the battle scenes for Apocalypse Now.

Designed by the Dominican architect José Antonio Caro as a replica of a sixteenth century Mediterranean village, and created by Italian master designer/cinematographer Roberto Coppa, the construction of Altos de Chavón began in 1976. At its very heart lie the Performing Arts Center of Altos de Chavón School of Design, with its crown jewel, a 5,000 seat Grecian-style amphitheater, inaugurated in 1982 with a live HBO special, The Concert of the Hemispheres, featuring Frank Sinatra and the Buddy Rich Big Band. In 1994, Michel Camilo returned to his homeland. But he was not alone. Alongside him were his inseparable Sandra (Sandrine) and an A-list group of musicians. On December 3rd, a concert took place at the Altos de Chavón amphitheater that no one who was fortunate to be there is ever likely to forget. Now, fifteen years later, that transfixing evening comes alive again for everyone to fully savor. Seldom does one find a musical dream team of this stature in a hypnotic state of collective inspiration.

Michel Camilo Big Band - CaribeIn Mano a Mano, Michel Camilo, returns to one of his most effective settings, the trio, but with a twist, using congas and small percussion, instead of trap drums. Featuring long-time friends, master conguero Giovanni Hidalgo and bassist Charles Flores, Michel’s trio creates a lighter, more open sound, still powerful, yet also with a certain sweet mango-flavored lyricism that proves to be a perfect vehicle for a wide ranging repertoire that includes eight original compositions and three standards. It’s a recording that speaks of an artist reaching maturity, connecting personal and professional moments of his past with a fresh, clear vision of the future. But it all started, however, on a chance encounter. “In June 2010 there was a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Heineken Jazz Festival in Puerto Rico and the organizers invited back all the living ‘highlights’ in the history of the festival,” recalls Michel Camilo. “I appeared with my trio, but as part of the event I was asked to also prepare a number for the festival’s big band which could eventually become a great descarga (Latin-style jam session). I loved the idea and was already thinking about inviting Giovanni to join us, thinking of when we recorded One More Once (1995) and sure enough, it became a great jam … but at one point, the band stopped and Giovanni and I were left playing as a duo and it reminded me of when we did Hands of Rhythm, 15 years ago, and I thought ‘Hang on now, there is something here.'”

Mano A ManoThe idea of a possible duet album quickly evolved into a trio date. “I thought about it and realized that I had done a duo record. It was better to move on,” explains Michel Camilo. And knowing the players, he knew it was a chance for something truly special. Giovanni Hidalgo is a “very mindful player, and very musical,” he says. “He is a one of a kind conguero. He doesn’t only hear rhythm but melody and harmony. For this recording he used five and six congas, and he tunes them to certain pitches and creates a scale. There is nothing random about it, it’s well thought out, and that helped the melodies and harmonies.” And for Mano a Mano, Michel, wearing the producer’s hat, also asked Giovanni Hidalgo to play smaller percussion, something that has rarely been asked of him. The result is a subtly shaded tapestry of sound that adds colors and textures to the music.

Meanwhile Charles Flores, Michel Camilo’s long-time collaborator, was the obvious choice on the bass. “Charles has been with me for a while now, I’ve seen him grow to become a tremendous bass player,” offers Michel Camilo. “He not only has a great technique but also a great harmonic concept and this sense of space, of economy, in the Charlie Haden tradition.” He says Giovanni Hidalgo’s and Charles Flores’s playing gives him great latitude of touch.”

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