Pianist Michel Camilo was at the top of his jazz game with his live effort back in 2003. That album, Live At The Blue Note garnered the crossover musician a Grammy for Best Latin Jazz Album. The Michel Camilo Trio is a well oiled machine but Camilo wanted to venture out more on his own, pushing the boundaries of his Latin-Brazilian-classic jazz collage. The new album is something Camilo sees as a mixing of all three as he travels along an eclectic highway. The 12 tracks (produced by Camilo and recorded last May in New York) all have something in common: no two songs are very much alike.
Camilo opens the album with a rather soft and somber ivory tickler entitled “A Dream”, moving from jazz to an almost classical style, especially in the initial moments. While it’s not quite a lullaby, there is something almost romantic about the tune, nearly perfect as the score or soundtrack for some foreign drama. The musician takes his time only occasionally showing the tip of his talents. It’s a great opener that is ideal for reflective, contemplative Sunday afternoons. As it closes, the classical aspect tends to take over, albeit slightly. The ensuing “Minha (All Mine)” is more in line with classic jazz, as the listener is teased by Camilo with each deliberate note. There is just as much flow here though as the previous track, with the tenderness in his playing coming to the surface. Balancing substance with flair, Camilo’s take of Gershwin’s “Our Love Is Here To Stay” is impressive yet safe at the same time. He tends to jazz it up during the heart of the song while the bass notes ascend and descend repeatedly. He returns to Gershwin later on during “Someone To Watch Over Me”, an effort that is mildly better but again lacks some intangibles.
For “Reflections” Camilo takes his time, basking in a blues-based approach through nine minutes. It is guajira style of playing, or to the layman, Caribbean blues. This deft Latin touch is reflected in the tone and tempo as he rarely does runs on the piano. The piece loosens up roughly halfway through as Camilo explores this further, resulting in some adventurous but appeasing ear candy. The homestretch starts with more dramatic playing as the keys are struck much harder for effect. Perhaps the highlight though is the lovely and picturesque “Luiza” by Antonio Carlos Jobim. Appearing to reach the next level of excellence, the pianist nails the song without missing a step. There is a slight letdown with Thelonious Monk’s “Round Midnight”, but the sheer quality of Camilo’s musicianship makes up for any perceived aural shortcomings.
Mellow is a term often used in jazz, but there is a reason for it. When you want to just close your eyes and get away from it all, songs like “Atras Da Porta” will take you somewhere else instantly. While some nitpickers might consider it too lounge-y, the song is rarely played above a whisper, resembling the likes of Oscar Peterson and perhaps the late Henry Mancini. The oddball track might be the rather Schroeder-ish “Un Son”, a number that Camilo shines on with more groove and an almost playful, childlike-quality to it. The Cuban influences, thanks to the Cuban son format, is what makes it work so well, dancing off of the keys immediately.
The real kicker though is the finale “Suntan”. Originally done with the Michel Camilo Trio back in 1986, Camilo revisited the song after hearing a version by the jam band String Cheese Incident. Part jazz and quasi-gospel, Camilo’s sparkle lights up the song with one impressive chord after another. The Latin or Brazilian touches are definitely more pronounced here as he seems to raise the ante the deeper he goes into the song. He might not have the two other people of his trio involved, but Michel Camilo stands apart from several of his peers with this album.