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Michel Camilo: Essence



Pianist, Composer Michel Camilo. Photo Credit: Frankie Celenza
Pianist, Composer Michel Camilo. Photo Credit: Frankie Celenza

Following his success with his solo album Live in London Michel Camilo returns to revisiting his music on a very large palette – his first big band recording in twenty-five years – entitled Essence. And the arrangements and performance matches (perhaps, even exceeds) the high standards that Mr Camilo had set in 1994 with One More Once (Columbia). The 2019 recording is a wide-ranging celebration of Mr Camilo’s art that spans decades since his earliest recording, Why Not (Evidence 1985). Mr Camilo and the Big Band’s performance on Essence is utterly majestic and unlike anything you might have heard from the pianist who has always seemed to have many hands with a myriad of fingers on each.

The music, which you might have heard before in one incarnation or another, is ingenious in its picturesque detail as well as in its overview of Mr Camilo’s melodic, harmonic and rhythmic conception. This, in turn draws from a sense of assured and enlivening sense of tone-painting that achieves a genuine panoramic glow. Mr Camilo’s re-imagining of this repertoire is also delivered on the kind of scale that speaks to a conception on a large orchestral canvas and has been captured in sound that is both expansive and immediate. The sheer magnificence of the ensemble passages provides us with vistas that include the structural pillars of Mr Camilo’s music never before realised on disc. All through the repertoire Mr Camilo also has an exceptional set of soloists who garner much of the spotlight here.

Curiously, despite Mr Camilo’s virtuosity as a pianist one gets a sense that he wishes for the music to speak “outside” the piano and on the multiple layers of sound palettes that the different instruments bring to it. To that extent these performances are characterised by dense brass and woodwind passagework. This puts Mr Camilo’s composer and arranger skills in the forefront of his (somewhat subdued) pianism. However, make no mistake, none of this in any way diminishes his pianism which remains inventive and powerful, the expertise of which is demonstrated at a very high level whenever he breaks out of the ensemble to spotlight his pianism.

The orchestral elements of this music are scrupulously handled and the soloists are choice. They range from older associates such as tenor saxophonist Ralph Bowen, trumpeter (and flugelhorn player) Michael Philip Mossman and drummer Cliff Almond to relative newcomers such as bassist Ricky Rodrigiuez, alto saxophonists Sharel Cassity and Antonio Hart and trumpeter (and flugelhorn player) Kali Rodriguez-Peña and, of course, the great Diego Urcola. Moreover a big change this time around (from two and a half decades ago, that is) is a smaller, yet potent trombone section that includes the likes of the inimitable Michael Dease as well as Steve Davis and Jason Jackson, with Dave Taylor holding down the bottom end of that horn section with his solid and confident bass trombone.

Mr Camilo and his forces together provide a blend of vigour and sensitivity revealing the music’s power and constant ingenuity. Mr Camilo revels in his masterly skills in writing for orchestra and soloists here. The musicians respond with a tone that is full-bodied, yet never heavy, offering firm attack and magisterial interpretation. The true measure of the music’s might is felt on songs that you may have heard before – in a different setting, of course. The experience is most rewarding on charts such as “Mano a Mano” and “On Fire”. It is on these charts in particular that the band’s emphatic delivery is felt deeply while Mr Camilo’s direction is responsive to the music’s every subtle shade, melding each into a grander vision for his beloved music.

Artist Profile: Michel Camilo
CD Review – Michel Camilo: What’s Up?
CD Review – Michel Camilo: Live in London
CD Review – Michel Camilo: One More Once
Feature – Michel Camilo: From Out of the Tumult

Track list – 1: And Sammy Walked In; 2: Mongo’s Blues Intro; 3: Mongo’s Blues; 4: Liquid Crystal; 5: Mano a Mano; 6: Just Like You; 7: Yes; 8: Piece of Cake; 9: On Fire; 10: Repercussions; 11: Hello & Goodbye

Personnel – Michel Camilo: piano, bandleader and composer; Ricky Rodriguez: bass; Cliff Almond: drums; Eliel Lazo: percussion and vocals; Antonio Hart: alto saxophone and flute; Sharel Cassity: alto saxophone and clarinet; Ralph Bowen: tenor saxophone and flute; Adam Kolker: tenor saxophone and clarinet; Frank Basile: baritone saxophone and bass clarinet; Michael Philip Mossman: trumpet, flugelhorn and arranger; Raul Agraz: trumpet and flugelhorn; John Walsh: trumpet and flugelhorn; Diego Urcola: trumpet and flugelhorn; Kali Rodriguez-Peña: trumpet and flugelhorn; Michael Dease: trombone; Steve Davis: trombone; Jason Jackson: trombone; David Taylor: bass trombone

Released – 2019
Label – Resilience Music Alliance
Runtime – 1:04:22

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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