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Michel Camilo: One More Once



Pianist, Composer Michel Camilo. Photo by Erinc Salor
Pianist, Composer Michel Camilo. Photo by Erinc Salor.

When Michel Camilo recorded One More Once and released the record on Columbia in the Fall of 1994, it created quite a sensation. Not merely were the pianist’s glorious arpeggios and magnificent runs on record again, but their torrential outpouring of his ravishing music was not heard with a superbly rehearsed group of performers who seemed to relish every detail of this beautifully nuanced score. Although comprised of ten songs of singular character, the album seemed to be hung on the pivotal fourth song: movement III of “Suite Sandrine”, a ‘song’ of sensuous beauty that seems to have been written absolutely to be played in the big band format. I can’t think of a better peg on which to hang this extraordinary record. This dramatic performance is despatched in 9 min and 15 secs, but it seems to last an eternity of one beautiful note after the other. It is a piece where huge dynamic range is demanded and the band not only is up to the challenge and the pianist at his best, but the ensemble swings with majestic abandon.

Michel Camilo: One More Once [album cover]
Michel Camilo: One More Once [album cover]

But lest it seem that “Suite Sandrine – Part III” is all that the album hangs on, perish the thought. There is much more here that is outstanding in every way. Each song is a melodic wonder and this is something that Michel Camilo has never really got credit for. Most critics and just plain listeners alike have been so swayed by his percussive style that he has come to be regarded in great esteem for his rhythmic extravagance and little else. Here, however, there is ample evidence to suggest that the former quality is also true. Admittedly Mr. Camilo walks a fine line here, as a pianist in a big band must also surrender to the might of the ensemble all too often, but as an orchestral (piano) concerto, there is always great tumult, with a pianist wrestling for control of the melody with musical passages requiring exceptional agility and technical skill in execution – bravura improvisations that often obfuscate melodies before the ensemble rescues them and then turns them around with delicious harmonic content as well. “One More Once” is one of those songs as is “Why Not!” as well.

And there is also a beautiful breeziness about the album that conjures up vivid imagery of the Dominican, where our protagonist comes from originally. Melding the folksiness of the cultural topography of that exotic place with the vaunted demands of classical harmony and jazz rhythms is no ordinary task. But Michel Camilo’s head alone is not where the music comes from. He is, as one would say, made completely of music – his body especially – and this seems to shoot through his entire nervous system. Indeed this can be seen in every toss of the head, vigorous twist and turn of the body, all of which is turned into pure energy that flows into the nerves of his fingertips that come into contact with the keys of the piano that Mr. Camilo plays with such genius. Indeed there are few pianists who play this grand instrument with such decorative flamboyance and rhapsodic rumination.

All of this brilliant technique and seemingly endless flow of ingenuity might derail lesser pianists, but Michel Camilo is made of sterner stuff. Far from dry, his pianism is hung on deep emotion and this seems to come from deep within the core of his being. This appears to be why Mr. Camilo is so transcendental and why he is able to make flamboyance and rhapsody entirely meaningful and not merely the decorative art that it can be. The heartfelt melodic flow of his soli on “Dreamlight” and “Caribe” are prime examples of this. And there is also something else. Michel Camilo can be puckish which suits his elfin physique. Listen to “Just Kidding” and, of course, the inimitable “Why Not!”. Both are superb examples of the fact that humour does, in fact, belong to music. In both these pieces the band executes the music like a well-oiled machine with bold brass and wistful winds, both expertly conducted by the composer and pianist. All this considered, it is no wonder that this record has stood the test of time.

YouTube Playlist – Michel Camilo: One More Once

Track list – 1: One More Once; 2: Why Not!; 3: The Resolution; 4: Suite Sandrine, Part III; 5: Dreamlight; 6: Just Kidding; 7: Caribe; 8: Suntan; 9: On The Other Hand; 10: Not Yet.

Personnel – Michel Camilo: piano; Anthony Jackson: contrabass guitar; Cliff Almond: drums; Marvin “Smitty” Smith: drums; Giovanni Hidalgo: congas, timbales, bongos, percussion; Guarionex Aquino Jr.: chékere, tambora, güiro, percussion; Chuck Loeb: guitar; Jon Faddis: trumpet; Michael Mossman: trumpet; Stanton Davis: trumpet; Bryan Lynch: trumpet; Dave Bargeron: trombone; Ed Neumeister: trombone; Conrad Herwig: trombone; Douglas Purviance: trombone; David Taylor: trombone; Chris Hunter: saxophone; Paquito D’Rivera: saxophone; Ralph Bowen: saxophone; Craig Handy: saxophone; Gary Smulyan: saxophone.

Released – 2009 (original release: 1994)
Label – Columbia
Runtime – 1: 03:32

Based in Milton, Ontario, Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

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