Conchita Supervia, the ultimate in Spanish singers (she died in childbirth 70 years ago, and no live performances kindle the fire of her song and other recordings) had one problem when performing the title role in Bidet’s Carmen (which she sang as folk music, vindicating its French composer’s transcription of Spanish idiom). She was Spanish, and the Habañera wasn’t, (it was Cuban). It wasn’t anything which could corrupt Spanish culture, but rather alien, in some respects, to the music no one was steeped in, like Supervia.
I had missed out on Michel Camilo until a few years ago, when a young man sharing a table with me at a European jazz festival concert explained to me after a Chick Corea trio had delivered a performance of “Spain”. My congenial companion of that evening noted that he was Catalan, and informed me that the conception underlying the performance of “Spain” had in fact been lifted by Corea from Camilo. I’m not suggesting that composer credits on recordings of “Spain” should be changed, as this pair of virtuoso musicians has at last come together on Spain Again. Nor should Camilo’s birthplace be changed from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, or the details of Astor Piazzolla’s birth be altered in reference works, for all the prominence here of a Tributo a Piazzolla. France can also keep Ravel, and Bizet, and these composers of genius can retain due credit for liberating the idiom subsequently distinguished by Albeniz, Granados, and Falla; which has more extension here.
“Libertango” is a fairly characteristic driving Piazzolla title, which the two instrumentalists have in their fingers and other bones. I can’t however claim that it improves on the opening title (also tango, but composed by the much earlier Tango Nonino Carlos Gardel). “El Dia Que Ne Quieras” is really a standout performance, the two are at one in it, more nearly at home and more nearly making jazz, right from the extended unaccompanied guitar intro. Once Piazzolla’s “Fuga y Mysterio” has performed its movement from Joan (as they write in Barcelona) Sebastian Bach, one crucial element of this duo is clear. More than on their preceding set, each man’s mastery of his instrument allows what can be called, equal phrasing. The ancient ideal of no longer being constrained by one’s specific instrument, but instead, able to get at the music, is realized here. They are really inside “Adiós Nonino” before a “Stella by Starlight” suggests Tomatito’s potential, or even the acoustic guitar in the hands of someone who has listened attentively to him, to do the work of a bassist in duo with a pianist.
After that sample from the Great American Songbook, they have two compositions each; Camilo’s “Twilight Glow” (with potential as a jazz ballad, but hardly distinct from the tributes to Piazzolla) and the guitarist’s “A Los Nietos” (with a strong flamenco aspect, from the weighty opening chords on unaccompanied piano). Where a jazz solo seems to be developing, an Argentangoan accent is never far away. The piano part of Tomatito’s brief “Tarde” owes something to Ravel impressionism, prior to a segue into “Fiesta”, which isn’t the other Camilo tune but a Corea-esque chestnut delivered on piano in similar style to its composer’s. These guys do the orchestral business very well, and even the sort of business I remember from the Corea concert. Where the piano seemed to be full of drums, Don Chick fetched out to turn his group into a percussion ensemble.
“From Within” is the second Camilo number, and after his solo intro, he tends to be more to the fore than elsewhere. Juan Luis Guerra might be said to have the last word on this set, not to mention the first one, since he sings a song of his own to his own.
// Notes from the Road
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