Sunday, August 11, 2013

Finding Out What's Up? With Michel Camilo / The Interview Part One!

I love the chance to speak with some of the finest players in the world. I cherish the experience on a far deeper level when it happens to be a personal favorite. Michel Camilo is currently on tour but was gracious enough to talk about his latest work, "What's Up?"
Part Two can be found at:

What's Up? is a delightful release, from a vibrant opening original to the title track and to the amazing reharm of "Take Five" there is a rich organic warmth to the presentation. This is not your first rodeo when it comes to solo piano, a great many players will only attempt one solo recording in their career and even more skip the format entirely. How did this record come to pass and what is it about the solo format that has you seemingly reinventing your own wheelhouse with each release?

M.C. - "Thanks, I'm glad you are enjoying my new album. I guess it was perfect timing since I was supposed to record instead a third duo album to complete the "Spain" trilogy with Flamenco guitar player Tomatito, since last November we were touring in Europe and Japan; but he still had to deliver a Flamenco album so we decided to hold this third album for later on. In the meantime, my friend and executive producer Wulf Müller sounded excited about the relaunching of the OKEH label by Sony Music and asked if I would be available to record an album for them. So I replied that I had already been working on some new ideas for a Solo Piano album and that I felt I was ready to go into the studio and record them. Also, at the same time I had been practicing really hard my left hand independence for "Take Five", etc.; as well as sketching new songs, grooves, nuances, textures and colors for "What's Up?"."

What's Up? embraces a riff on the cultural by product of your own experiences moving from a blues infused honky tonk number to tunes more cinematic in scope. The downfall of some solo piano work would be  coming across more like a recital and less like a work of true expression. From a creative standpoint is the solo work harder to put together ?

M.C. - "I feel it is much harder to put together a solo work since there is nowhere to "hide" and you are totally "naked" in front of the listeners. After many hours of solitude and practice, one must embark on a "creative process of self-discovery" in order to keep the fans engaged all the way through. I came up with a concept of "paying tribute to the rich tradition of solo jazz piano styles" and "including many musical influences I have been exposed to over the years" and that way I felt that I was able to achieve an organic and flowing album structure by intertwining the original material together with the standard repertoire. Of course, I started the album with the blues infused honky tonk song since for me it was really important to first connect with the roots of the jazz tradition."

Are Latin players, or perhaps players that play Latin jazz and the music itself painted with too broad a brush, often stereotyped to excess and if so do you think it is based largely on a lack of well rounded jazz education here in the States? For example, the influences you have as a Dominican player are of course different from say Brazilian Antonio Adolfo not to mention the differences in the music within each country is something most casual listeners don't readily understand.

M.C. - "That's a good point since you are absolutely right. There are so many different rhythms and styles even within each Latin American country that it is quite a challenge to even try to learn and understand them. For example, the Dominican Republic is known for its Merengue beat tradition, but there is also many other styles in the country like Bachata, Gagá, Palos, Mangulina, Pambiche, Carabiné, Guloya, Maché, and so on... Now imagine that each other country has its own myriads of beats and grooves. The thing is that in Latin jazz, we do combine different beats and styles in order to have a rich palette of contrasts underpinning the jazz harmonies and improvisations. My generation also started to expand on the traditional binary and ternary rhythmic subdivisions by exploring polymetric Latin beats in 5, 7, 11 and 13 beats as well."