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Michel Camillo gives fiery performance at Kresge concert


Michael Bowie, bass, Joel Rosenblatt,

drums, and Michel Camilo, keyboards.

At Kresge Auditorium,

Friday, October 6.


MICHEL CAMILO TOOK TO the keyboard of the Kresge B"osend"orfer last Friday evening on his first American concert date and set the stage "on fire." He opened with upbeat "Island Stomp" from his appropriately entitled second album, On Fire, just released last week, and continued with more pieces from this and his first album, Michel Camilo. Bassist Michael Bowie and drummer Joel Rosenblatt took their first extensive solos in the closer of the first set, "Caribe," after which a standing Kresge audience demanded an encore.

The second set as well had fiery moments, such as the title track from his new album with which he closed, which also received a standing ovation from the packed house. The vigorous encore again featured the flying finesse of Camilo's piano and driving Latin-flavored rhythm by Bowie and Rosenblatt.

Friday's performance was Camilo's first concert on his first American tour. It was also the first concert sponsored by the Marvin Asnes Performing Arts Fund, established in 1987 by Norma Asnes in memory of her late husband, a man very active in the MIT cultural community. In addition to the concert appearance, Camilo taught a master class on jazz improvisation at Killian Hall at noon on Friday. At that session Camilo revealed some personal insight on his path from a classical piano training in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, to his becoming a rising star in the modern New York jazz scene.

Camilo listened to Art Tatum and other bopsters as a youngster, and throughout his classical training relished the jazz playing style and the risk and spontaneity of its improvisatory composition. His classical background, bebop influences, and Caribbean heritage combine to form a unique jazz style, one with virtuostic flair that at the same time swings with the drive of Latin-flavored rhythms.

Camilo's classical influence shows most when he does more lyrical ballads or blues, which he did only seldomly Friday. But, although Camilo can move and captivate with his rich, lush ballads, his real strength lies in rapidly executed jazz lines played above the jumping left hand Latin rhythm lines. Camilo's music projects the joyful attitude he holds; he really likes playing music and he exudes his pleasure to his listeners.

Camilo is quite technically proficient, but is one of the few players who, while he plays very rapidly, also has the improvisational ability to choose the right notes, and makes them swing too.

The trio worked extremely well together, highlighting a main point of Camilo's afternoon seminar: that the art of jazz greatly depends on musicians playing together, rather than just being together playing. Camilo urged the class to listen to jazz groups to see whether they communicated and played dynamically as a group. I listened; and they did.

Rosenblatt laid down the Caribbean style rhythms with clarity and sensitivity to Camilo's style, and used a colorful variety of cymbals and toms to enhance the rhythms. Bowie also played expertly, being an excellent example of how a trio bassist must play.

If you get the opportunity to hear Camilo, you will certainly find much to enjoy about his music. The only downfall is that his distinctive Caribbean sound, which sounds so fresh at first, begins to sound clich'ed near the end. He plays little contrast; but he cannot seem to hold back his cheerful energy, which comes through in his playing vigor and the grin on his face. And he always finds his way back to some spicy rhythm to get your feet tapping and your blood pumping.