Michel Camilo Trio
Regattabar at the Charles Hotel
Saturday, Oct. 18
Saturday night. Full house. Glasses clink and lapels straighten.
Tight blues echoes off the low ceiling. Musicians wrap their bodies — and souls — around the music, contorting as they shred through line after line of harmonic bliss. No warmups here. It’s Saturday night, and both the audience and the Michel Camilo trio has every intention of having a good time.
“We call it our burn-all-ships set” Camilo announced after the first tune. Camilo is ecstatic, almost impishly so, and his enthusiasm radiates outward. Camilo, bassist Charles Flores, and percussionist Dafnis Prieto are performers of the first order, reaching out to the audience: three wise men bearing the gift of funkiness.
Drinks are refilled. Blackberries are checked. The next tune starts.
It’s a ballad. Slow, mellow, romantic. While the tune is simple, the group infuses it with so much feeling that it says so much more than the notes and chord progressions alone. Flores plays powerfully here, caressing his instrument in his first solo of the night, feeling the music as if for the first time. Calls and responses are on the mark, flowing, even, relaxing. The first tune was a shout-out, where this is a love poem. The lineup is simple, yet chillingly soulful.
It’s hard to pinpoint where this feeling comes from. Prieto called it “instinct” when I spoke to him. Flores compared it to breathing. Raised in Cuba, he was surrounded by music daily. When he plays, it’s as much a story of how his day went as a reminiscence of his childhood — his whole being.
This idea of “fullness” is a key feature of the Afro-Cuban tradition. In some circles, the characteristic clave — a traditional rhythmic pattern used throughout the night — is assigned a sacred value, even the power to open up spiritual doorways. Music isn’t just something you go to hear, as Flores explained to me. It’s a part of you that goes all the way to the core.
But that doesn’t mean it’s no fun. The trio followed next with a funky, driving chart, dropping volume as an ensemble, then rising again. Later, they did a cover of Coltrane’s Giant Steps, with a Latin beat and virtuosic, careening lines in the keys. Follow that up with an arrangement of Perdido, a heart-rending tango, and a hot five-time chaser, and even the most arthritic toes were tapping. A standing ovation, and a house of satisfied customers.
Props to Prieto for a wild brushes solo in the second half of the night — and for keeping a tight groove the whole time — and to the ensemble as a whole for overall enthusiasm, from the way they stood to what they said to the order of the songs. As Flores put it, “It’s my life, I might as well go 100 percent.”
Michel Camilo is pure love — the slow, the fast, the simple, the deep — in all the best ways.