Grammy Award Winner!
This and the following sentence were written after the completed review was finished and just before we "went to press". Live at the Blue Note won the Grammy Award for best Latin Jazz Album as announced on February 8, 2004.
This recording of Michel Camilo features his trio as much as himself. Not only is this his first live recording in his almost twenty year career, here his usual drummer, Horacio Hernandez (fondly known as El Negro) is joined by bassist Charles Flores. That fact automatically qualifies his rhythm section to be called a Cuban rhythm section and noted as such in press releases. Camilo was born in the Dominican Republic.
Camilo enjoys almost equal fame as a composer. His compositions have been played by solo jazz performers as well as groups in addition to works for film. Previous recordings for Verve and Telarc have previously been nominated for various "best of" awards both for Best Jazz Instrumental album and for best Latin Jazz albums. At least once, the same Camilo album was nominated in both categories by different organizations, the Grammy Awards and the Billboard Awards!
This two SACD set features well over two hours of extremely fine jazz playing and improvisations. All except two of the compositions are by Camilo. Most had never been performed live until these on site recordings done in March 2003 at the Blue Note. Even if some of the compositions have been available on previous discs they may not be easily recognized here! As a composer, it seems as if Camilo often cannot "leave things alone", and with his trio, improvisations pop up almost anywhere. No matter what his previous credits and reputation imply, not all these selections fit neatly into the Latin jazz category. Many will be enjoyed as just simply straight ahead jazz with delicate or subtle improvisations such as use of small percussion instruments typically associated with Latin music or performers.
The first track on disc number one "Coco walk" is at least partly straight-ahead and driving jazz. The Latin aspects or flavor are there much of the time but not always. It is typical of the almost mainstream/driving jazz tracks on both discs. Track number two is cool jazz entitled "Two of a Kind" and then the next track is almost as spirited and driving as the first track. The following track four, "The Magic in You" is as smooth and cool as jazz gets. And so it goes; variety is almost everywhere on this two disc recording. Do not be worried or intimidated by the Latin jazz description of these CDs. Simply enjoy the improvisations offered by this talented trio of jazz musicians. As typical of a jazz trio headed by a pianist (and composer) the piano tends to be highlighted but only slightly here; not obtrusively so. Deliberately or not, the cymbals or brushwork on the discs is often subdued or almost slighted. The live applause aspect of the recordings is not excessive though it should have been faded in a few instances and is the main hint of an on location recording. Other than that it comes close to sounding like a typically good studio job.
If numerical ratings had to be given, performances would approach 100 and audio quality would waiver somewhere around 90. Played on an excellent up sampling CD player, this fine hybrid disc yields only very subtle improvements when used in the up sampling mode. This is often regarded as a positive sign that the "basic" recording is quite excellent. Used in a true multi-channel SACD player and surround sound system, there is a slight but definite improvement resulting in more of a sensation of being in the recording room. This is deliberate in my surround sound system. It is to enhance the musical experience, not to let helicopters or other movie distractions come at me from the right or left rear. Prediction would be that much more is going to heard of and from composer/pianist Michel Camilo. Very highly recommend to anyone with even slight interest in jazz; many if not all tracks will be appreciated.