Friday, April 13, 2012

Technical Brilliance Meets the Groove

Michel Camilo
This Saturday's show on April 14th featuring Dominican-born pianist Michel Camilo promises to be magical for several reasons, not the least of which is is spectacular technique coupled with a penchant for pounding out fierce grooves. Camilo's mastery of multiple idioms - from classical and jazz to Afro-Caribbean - is delivered with such exquisite and effortless intention that it boggles even the most hardcore players on the scene. But what makes this appearance so intriguing for many of us is his most recent collaboration with another virtuoso: percussionist Giovanni Hidalgo. Add to this mix the extraordinary talent of bassist Lincoln Goines, and you are sure to witness one supernatural trio! The world of jazz trios has its generous share of the traditional piano-bass-drums format, but scarcely do we get to witness a trio setting that features a percussionist. Following several years of working with drum phenom Horacio "El Negro" Hernández, Camilo's move toward a more subtle (and presumably quieter) approach might at first cause a few heads to turn were it not for the fact that with Giovanni, the energy and virtuosity is just as intense.  I'll dive into Gio (as we lovingly call him) in a moment, but first some more on Michel Camilo.

I first heard Michel on a cassette tape from a live recording at the old Village Gate in NYC - he was a guest of Eddie Palmieri's on the Monday night "Salsa Meets Jazz" show back in the early 80s. As I listened I commented that there must have been something wrong with the cassette machine; clearly it was the wrong speed. No, it turns out it was my brain that obviously could not keep up with what Camilo was playing. As a pianist, it took me a moment to wrap my ears around what I was hearing, but once I settled in I discovered a world of remarkable independence and technical brilliance I hadn't encountered before, at least not in most "Latin" music. What struck me was his fierce left hand, which simultaneously maintained the syncopated Cuban bassline known as the tumbao while juxtaposing it with a chordal thread of "punctuation." On top of this his right hand played a series of octave runs interspersed with fluid melodic lines that worked in perfect counterpoint with his left hand, all of this at a tempo that had the audience hollering with amazement. It is clear that in Camilo we are able to witness the full range of technical prowess, creativity and passion, and a deep sense of groove that is hard to come by in any genre.
Giovanni Hidalgo

The name Giovanni Hidalgo may not be on the radar of some jazz fans; his primary instrument - the conga drums - is more often associated with the world of Afro-Cuban (and other Caribbean) music. But let me just say that no one in the entire world has done more to bring the instrument to international prominence than this Puerto Rican-born virtuoso. Steeped in the study of Cuban music early on, Hidalgo developed an approach to conga drumming that, although anchored in the techniques established mostly by Cuban percussionists (notably José Luis Quintana "Changuito"), is unparalleled in terms of tone, agility and shear speed. I first saw Gio at a neighborhood street fair in San Francisco's Mission District as he sat in with a local salsa band. At the tender age of 13 he was already blowing every local percussionist out of the water, period. In the years that followed he would work with a veritable Who's Who of world music, and by the mid 1990s was a mainstay in Mickey Hart's Planet Drum aggregation, where his exploration of multiple musical genres would lead him to much richer sonic palettes. I have had the great honor of sharing the stage and studio with Gio numerous times, and he is quite simply one of the most musical beings on the planet!

Rounding out this exceptional trio is bassist Lincoln Goines, whose resume reads like an alphabetized listing of everyone worth mentioning in music. Hearing these three giants together will be a treat to say the least. To give you an idea I have assembled a short play-list of tunes from two different recordings: Mano a Mano (Camilo's recent album with this format), and Hidalgo's Hands of Rhythm (a duet recording with Camilo). From standards to Argentine folk songs and originals, these two masters are showcased in a delightful range of pieces - from delicate ballad to foot-stomping mambo. For tickets and info on Saturday's show please visit the SFJAZZ website. (And P.S. while I'm at it: musicians and pianists especially will not want to miss the 1pm master class SFJAZZ Education is hosting with Michel. Limited space available, so please rsvp to Enjoy!
-- Rebeca

"Alfonsina y el mar"

"Amo Esta Isla"

"Blue Monk"

"Mano a Mano"

"Softly, As In a Morning Sunrise"

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