- Audio CD (September 13, 2011)
- Number of Discs: 1
- Label: EmArcy
- ASIN: B0050JPFFQ
- Average Customer Review: 6 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #170,578 in CDs & Vinyl (See Top 100 in CDs & Vinyl)
Mano A Mano
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The opening track of Dominican pianist and composer Michel Camilo's dazzling new release, Mano a Mano as he joins the Decca/EmArcy (Universal Music Group), is not only a scene setter but a declaration of principle. Optimistic, brimming with energy and understated virtuosity, "Yes," an original composition by Michel, hints at the sound of classic Cubop while celebrating modern Afro-Caribbean jazz. "'Yes' is a positive piece," says Michel. "It's an affirmation. It's saying that getting involved in this music, in this project, has been all worthwhile. The piece is in the mold of a 'Donna Lee,' or an 'Indiana,' and it was a way for us to say 'Yes, we know the jazz tradition. But we also know something else. And here there are two traditions.'"
In Mano a Mano, Michel Camilo, returns to one of his most effective settings, the trio, but with a twist, using congas and small percussion, instead of trap drums. Featuring longtime friends, master conguero Giovanni Hidalgo and bassist Charles Flores, Michel's trio creates a lighter, more open sound, still powerful, yet also with a certain sweet mango-flavored lyricism that proves to be a perfect vehicle for a wide ranging repertoire that includes eight original compositions and three standards.
It's a recording that speaks of an artist reaching maturity, connecting personal and professional moments of his past with a fresh, clear vision of the future. But it all started, however, on a chance encounter. "In June 2010 there was a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Heineken Jazz Festival in Puerto Rico and the organizers invited back all the living 'highlights' in the history of the festival," recalls Michel. " I appeared with my trio, but as part of the event I was asked to also prepare a number for the festival's big band which could eventually become a great descarga (Latin-style jam session). I loved the idea and was already thinking about inviting Giovanni to join us, thinking of when we recorded One More Once (1995) And sure enough, it became a great jam ... but at one point, the band stopped and Giovanni and I were left playing as a duo and it reminded me of when we did Hands of Rhythm, 15 years ago, and I thought 'Hang on now, there is something here.'"
The idea of a possible duet album quickly evolved into a trio date. "I thought about it and realized that I had done a duo record. It was better to move on," explains Michel. And knowing the players, he knew it was a chance for something truly special. Giovanni Hidalgo is a "very mindful player, and very musical," he says. "He is a one of a kind conguero. He doesn't only hear rhythm but melody and harmony. For this recording he used five and six congas, and he tunes them to certain pitches and creates a scale. There is nothing random about it, it's well thought out, and that helped the melodies and harmonies." And for Mano a Mano, Michel, wearing the producer's hat, also asked Giovanni to play smaller percussion, something that has rarely been asked of him. The result is a subtly shaded tapestry of sound that adds colors and textures to the music.
Meanwhile Charles Flores, Michel's long time collaborator, was the obvious choice on the bass."Charles has been with me for awhile now, I've seen him grow to become a tremendous bass player," offers Michel. "He not only has a great technique but also a great harmonic concept and this sense of space, of economy, in the Charlie Haden tradition." He says Hidalgo's and Flores's playing give him a "a great latitude of touch."
Michel says his experiences playing in European classical music settings, performing standard repertoire and his own piano concertos as a soloist with symphony orchestras in the US, Europe, Asia and the Caribbean, have made him a subtler, better pianist. Now, with this trio, he is able to "caress the keys, control the attack, the dynamics."
Moreover, the group represents not only a "meeting of the minds, each one of us with a rich musical baggage and our own rhythmic notions" but also, considering Michel is Dominican, Giovanni Puerto Rican, and Charles Cuban, the coming together of three potent Afro-Caribbean musical traditions. "I knew it was going to be a good combination," he says. With this trio in mind, Michel wrote the original music in the span of one week, last December. "It was a surreal experience," he recalls. "It was as if everything was ready and it was only a matter of sitting down and letting it flow out. It was truly magical."
He also decided to include three standards, two from the jazz tradition, the other one a Latin American classic - Lee Morgan's "The Sidewinder," John Coltrane's "Naima," and Ariel Ramírez's "Alfonsina y el Mar." Musically, it's a demanding repertoire that cuts a wide swath. It includes Latin jazz barnburners (such as "Yes," and the title track) but also a nod to the sound of boogaloo and the 1960s Latin soul ("The Sidewinder"); a samba-choro ("No Left Turn"), and a sly, neo-traditional rumba ("Rumba Pa'Ti").
Moreover, in Mano a Mano, Michel explores two essential popular styles from the Dominican Republic. His take on bachata, a kind of ballad, results in the exquisite "You and Me," which Michel calls "a bachata in black tie." While in "Rice and Beans," he reworks merengue, a two-step dance style. It's a first for Michel. "I played it at a rehearsal, just for kicks, as a lark, and everybody jumped in 'Yes, yes, let's do that one.' So it stuck. It's actually merengue-jazz. It's in the merengue tradition (and you can feel the typical quintillo, a five-note rhythmic figure, throughout the piece) -- but with the type of harmonic changes you find in jazz."
And just as this trio can groove and dance, "Alfonsina y El Mar," a song from the Great Latin American Songbook made famous by the late singer Mercedes Sosa, gets here a thoughtful, smart "three-way intimate conversation." It's not by chance. For Michel, Mano a Mano underscores the fact that Latin jazz "is not just a continuous jam session. Yes, we can bring high energy when it's called for, but we also can be subtle when we need to be."
About the Artist
Pianist and composer Michel Camilo was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, in 1954. Fascinated with music since childhood, he composed his first song at the age of five, then studied for 13 years at the National Conservatory. At 16, he became a member of the National Symphony Orchestra.
Seeking to expand his musical horizons, he moved in 1979 to New York, where he continued his studies at Mannes and Juilliard School of Music. His composition Why Not? was recorded by Paquito D'Rivera as the title tune for one of his albums, and The Manhattan Transfer won a Grammy Award for their vocal version in 1983. His first two albums were titled Why Not? and Suntan/In Trio.
Camilo made his Carnegie Hall debut with his trio in 1985. Since then, he has become a prominent figure performing regularly in the United States, the Caribbean, Japan and Europe. December 1987 marked his debut as a classical conductor when the National Symphony Orchestra of the Dominican Republic invited him to conduct a recital featuring the works of Rimsky-Korsakoff, Beethoven, Dvorak and Camilo's own composition, The Goodwill Games Theme, which won an Emmy Award. That year, he became the musical director of the Heineken Jazz Festival in his native Dominican Republic, a post he held through 1992.
November of 1988 marked his debut on a major record label with the release of his self- titled album, Michel Camilo (Sony). The album became an instant success and held the top jazz album spot for ten consecutive weeks. His next recording, On Fire, was voted one of the top three Jazz Albums of the Year by Billboard, and 1990s On the Other Hand was a top-ten jazz album. All three releases reached the number-one position in radio airplay.
Camilo's list of compositions, recordings and other achievements throughout the '90s is vast. His composition Caribe was recorded by pianists Katia and Marielle Lebeque, and by the legendary Dizzy Gillespie, in 1991. His Rhapsody for Two Pianos and Orchestra, commissioned by the Philharmonia Orchestra, premiered a year later at the Royal Festival Hall. In 1993, Gavin and Billboard magazines picked his Rendezvous as one of the top jazz albums of the year.
Camilo performed a series of piano recitals in 1996 as part of Copenhagen's Cultural Capital of Europe celebration, and also debuted at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, and Carnegie Hall in New York. That same year, he performed in Israel, Spain, Mexico, Dominican Republic and Switzerland, where he debuted at Zurich's prestigious Tonhalle concert hall as part of the Jazz Piano Masters series.
He served as co-artistic director in 1998 for the first Latin-Caribbean Music Festival at the Kennedy Center, which featured performances by his trio and big band, as well as the world premiere of his Piano Concerto with the National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin. The following year, he toured with Cuban jazz pianist Chucho Valdes, and debuted with the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra.
In addition to compiling an extensive discography and maintaining a rigorous performance schedule, Camilo has composed and recorded a number of Spanish film scores over the years, and holds honorary degrees from his alma mater, Universidad Autonoma de Santo Domingo, and UTESA University of Santiago, Dominican Republic (he's the youngest person to ever receive the distinction from the latter school). In 1992, he was named a Knight of the Heraldic Order of Christopher Columbus by the Dominican Government.
At the turn of the millennium, his 2000 Verve release, Spain, with guitarist Tomatito, won Best Latin Jazz Album in the first-ever Latin Grammy Awards. Camilo also performed in a trio concert in 2000 presented by the New Jersey Chamber Society with special guest Paquito D'Rivera.
In 2001, Camilo appeared on the soundtrack CD for the acclaimed Latin jazz film Calle 54, directed by the Oscar-winning Spaniard Fernando Trueba. In addition to his activities as a composer and pianist, Camilo lectured and performed at many universities and colleges throughout Europe and the United States--including New York University, Berklee School of Music, MIT, William Paterson College (in New Jersey) and Puerto Rico Conservatory.
In November 2001, he was awarded the Silver Cross of the Order of Duarte, Sanchez & Mella from the president of the Dominican Republic, the highest honor that the government can give.
2002 marked a special year for Camilo with two albums: Classical and Jazz. In February, Decca released his Concerto for Piano & Orchestra, Suite for Piano, Strings and Harp & Caribe, to celebrate his guest appearance with the NSO conducted by Leonard Slatkin at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
In March 2002, Telarc released Triangulo, Camilo's Grammy Award nominee trio recording, which features bass guitarist Anthony Jackson and drummer Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez.
August 2003 marked the Telarc release of his latest album Live at the Blue Note, featuring Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez on drums and Charles Flores on acoustic bass. This two-CD set captures the quintessential Camilo "sound" live for the first time and was awarded a GRAMMY for Best Latin Jazz Album.