Recording Date: Oct 16, 2006-Oct 19, 2006
After 20 years of developing his chops as a trio player, pianist Michel Camilo took a few years off to do other things - a solo album titled Solo and a lovely orchestral homage to George Gershwin were two results of that break. With Spirit of the Moment he returns to the trio format, and he sounds refreshed and happy to be back. As always, his style is powerfully energetic and at times ideas seem to be flying out from under his fingers almost more quickly than he can fully process them. But with the help of a crack rhythm team (drummer Dafnis Prieto and bassist Charles Flores), he manages to keep his feet on the ground and generate lots of inspiring moments. Notable among them are an all-too-brief rendition of the John Coltrane classic "Giant Steps" that sounds almost like "Flight of the Bumblebee," a lovely version of Wayne Shorter's "Nefertiti," and the aptly titled "Hurry Up and Wait," a jittery and edgy uptempo original with a Latin feel. Despite his obvious affinity for faster material, Camilo also shines on the ballads: he delivers sweetly lyrical renditions of "My Secret Place" and "A Place in Time," both of them originals.
All Music Guide
========= from the cover ==========
"This album is a landmark for me," Michel Camilo notes with pride. "It deals with both my roots and my influences, plus how my trio sound keeps expanding, and how the members of my band are tuned into my vision." A bold claim for a pianist whose last trio effort, Live at the Blue Note, was honored with a Grammy award; but an indication in no uncertain terms that Camilo refuses to rest on laurels.
For Camilo, it was only natural that his previous trio triumph led him to a re-evaluation. "That was the climax of a 20-year journey to hone my trio sound," he explains, "and then the idea was to let the trio rest so the concept and the music could be refreshed." There were more than enough alternatives to pursue - Camilo's first unaccompanied collection, Solo; a variety of classical projects, including the album Rhapsody in Blue (which received its own Latin Grammy Award for Best Classical Album while the present music was being mastered}; and a reunion with flamenco guitarist Tomatito for a duo tour. After so much music in so many different settings, it was time to return to the ensemble that has always been Camilo's primary home.
The first order of business was assembling a unit, which in this case meant six-year Camilo veteran Charles Flores on bass and new drummer Dafnis Prieto. "I've been very lucky with all of my bassists and drummers," the pianist affirms, "and Charles and Dafnis bring the complete trust and knowledge that allows us to operate at the cutting edge. Charles comes from a different angle than I do, because he's Cuban and I'm from the Dominican Republic. We speak the same Caribbean language, but with a different inflection. Charles allowed me to go back to working with acoustic bass, and to use arco bass in my music for the first time. He raised the bridge on his instrument, to get more bounce on his strings; he swings so hard; and his bowing is flawless.
"Dafnis, who is also from Cuba, has so much experience, including the rhythmic knowledge he used when he played with Steve Coleman. He brought all kinds of different cymbals and sticks to the session, because he listened to what we were going to play and let it blossom in his imagination. And both he and Charles are composers, which helps them understand the architecture of the music."
Camilo's strategy was to allow the new unit to coalesce in a Spring 2006 tour that included 42 performances, only four of which were on concert stages "Doing a club tour like that, with the audience so close to you, is really special," he reports. "When it was over, I was so inspired that I wrote eight new songs and arranged four standards in my own way, then presented the music to Charles and Dafnis a week before we went into the studio. The idea was to capture that edge I'm always looking for, which is why Spirit of the Moment is the perfect title for the album."
Several of the performances confirm Camilo's view that the term Latin jazz can be far more than placing a clave beneath sophisticated chord changes. "For me," he says, "It means coming to the music with a jazz head, while using my roots as tools to create new sounds and new horizons." As illustrations, note how the trio finds different ways to explore the blues, from the opening "Just Now" ("New Orleans meets the Caribbean, preparing you for what follows") through the ripping "Repercussions" and the shifting "Hurry Up and Wait," which moves from 7/4 to 5/2. "The Latin rhythm happens in five," he offers, "but it's a jazz jam all the way."
The title track is another complex stew of Cuban, Dominican and Puerto Rican elements, with a traditional beat and a unison melodic line that could pass for bebop yet remains authentically Caribbean. There is more contrast along the way, as the piano solo begins in a manner Camilo calls "almost antique" before new harmonies enter, and with a 2/3 clave that is reversed when the bass takes over. A blend of different rhythmic elements also provides the momentum on "Trilogy," while the jazz classics "Nefertiti" and "Nardis" are transformed with a 9/8 "Afro-Cuban mentality" and a flamenco tinge, respectively. "Giant Steps" gets a new rhythmic spin as well, with moments in this brief yet complete performance where Prieto's funky patterns converge with Camilo's keyboard to suggest an exploding music box.
The mood changes on the introspective "My Secret Place" and "A Place in Time." where the rhythmic virtuosity lies in generating momentum from rubato openings, and where the harmonies become more complex. "Each of us was classically trained, and you can hear that part of our backgrounds in those tracks," says Camilo, who reports that the band listened to Bach and Chopin, and discussed Shostakovich and Stravinsky at breaks in the recording session. "It wasn't a situation where we were saying, 'How do we get those influences into the music?" he adds. "It just happened."
"Liquid Crystal," with its modal structure and floating gait, and a mysterious "Solar (Explorations)" that allows the Miles Davis classic "Solar" to emerge from the collective conversation, add sufficient mystery to announce that the search continues. "I have always approached the piano trio as chamber music for rhythm section," Camilo adds, "and I've always been striving for a specific approach and a specific sound, which all of the greatest jazz trios have. It takes three people with big ears and knowledge of many styles who are always ready to jump without a parachute. In the studio, we all
have to come up to a high level quickly and I'm proud that most of the album is first takes. Even when we recorded more, we found ourselves coming back to the earlier versions, because they had the spirit of the moment."
Camilo views each of his albums as books, with the tracks serving as separate chapters, and suggests that we consider this volume as a story in three parts of four chapters each. With this plan in mind, one can hear the focus shifting from Afro-Caribbean sources (tracks 1-4) to more pronounced jazz roots (5-8) and then a forward-looking synthesis 19-12). On the other hand, Camilo avoids the schematic and allows for spontaneous revelation every step of the way. "I still enjoy the process of self-discovery," he emphasizes. His artistry assures that we will enjoy the process as well.
- Bob Blumenthal