Michel Camilo: Spirit of the Moment

Michel Camilo
Spirit of the Moment

Blessed more than singly is the pianist who can replace ‘El Negro’ Hernandez on drums with Dafnis Prieto, let alone compose and deliver a “Just Now” reminiscent in genre terms of Ray Bryant. These guys may be of Hispanic ancestry with special talents and aptitudes, but in delivering a very good best they don’t need to play Latin at all.

In his notes, Camilo reflects on the advantages of having in Charles Flores a performer on upright double bass rather than the electric bassists he’s frequently worked with before. His own flexibility, let alone that of the trio, seems to have been extended here. “My Secret Place” is a very quiet and delicate ballad notable for Prieto’s subtle work, and bowed bass in support of the pianist’s crystal clear and delicate articulation. Camilo has several not exactly secret places here in which to commune with quietness.

The long lines of “Spirit of the Moment” combine Cuba and Bach, quite building to a fullness like a fugue with Prieto pacing things, as he does behind the bass solo. The percussionist also gets his own workout; and there he is again on the insistent-paced modal “Repercussions”, with Camilo sounding solo piano echoes of Mal Waldron and McCoy Tyner before the performance starts swinging. The drummer’s close with the pianist all the way from then on, and they both put congenial pressure on the bassist as he solos, in what’s mostly an exercise in drive.

Then there’s Wayne Shorter’s “Nefertiti” for more quiet playing, with long forays into piano melody (the full commentary in the liner cites use here of a 9/8 metre). “Nardis” was co-composed by Miles Davis and Bill Evans, and Camilo gives the performance several dramatic turns, and a dark Iberian flavour, while Prieto works hard, the bassist comes in bowed, and it’s rather a bullfight of a performance. Early in Camilo’s own “Trilogy” there’s a potent bass figure reminiscent of something familiar I can’t put a name to. And not for the first time this past twelvemonth I hear a light-fingered rapid performance of Coltrane’s “Giant Steps”, though the other new ones were less playful and hadn’t a witty, outgoing drummer on their backs.

Beside Camilo’s own words, the liner commentary mentions the band listening to recordings of, as well as discussing, Bach, Chopin, Shostakovich et al. at the session. While I do get fed up with background info that comes too near to encouraging listeners to sympathise with artistic ambitions rather than be in a position to hear what has been realised in music, it’s quite relevant to ask how long jazz musicians have been listening to other music and — rather than wondering how to get some things into their own music — sometimes finding it there like the answer to prayers. Sidney Bechet was trying that sort of thing ninety years back, modelling solo performances on the operatic aria, and the late Jimmy McPartland reminisced on tape about how far he and other Chicago neo-Dixielanders in the late 1920s (and not just Bix Beiderbecke) admired Ravel.

I am, however, a little skeptical about the account of this CD’s overall programme as a first section Afro-Caribbean, a second jazz, and a third something akin to what Gunther Schuller and the late John Lewis referred to as the ‘third stream’.

Actually, I can’t, and I’m glad I can’t, see any genre difference between the good enough opener — which is a plain jazz performance — and the much more adventurous “Hurry Up and Wait”, in which some Caribbean keyboard techniques turn up in something like a more thoroughly virtuoso Horace Silver. There are a lot of things going on here, happily.

Camilo’s piano enters “Liquid Crystal” within an already established empathic setting of bass-drums interaction reminiscent of the classic Bill Evans trio. “Solar (Explorations)” begins with lyrical piano, then, after a passage of high drama, a use of space akin to that of the tune’s composer, Miles Davis. The performance does become pianistic, or piano-trio-anistic, but, as I say, there’s a lot happening here. A lot.

RATING 8 / 10