[JPL] A Series of Duets, Intense and Attentive

r durfee rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com
Fri Sep 29 16:42:53 EDT 2006

September 27, 2006
Music Review | 'Michel Camilo and Tomatito'
A Series of Duets, Intense and Attentive 
Michel Camilo is a Dominican jazz pianist and Tomatito
is a Spanish flamenco guitarist, but those
characterizations don’t quite capture the thrust of
their rapport. Both artists are known for ferocious
technique and a corresponding sense of high-wire
drama. And they could both be described as
percussionists, in temperament as well as touch. It
seemed a small miracle that neither musician broke any
strings onstage at the Blue Note on Monday night,
during a series of intense and often superheated

Seven years ago, Mr. Camilo and Tomatito, whose given
name is José Fernández Torres, recorded an impressive
album called “Spain” (Verve) that drew a line of
musical connection through the Spanish-speaking
cultures of Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean.
Implicitly, the album also acknowledged the flamenco
explorations of the jazz pianist Chick Corea, who
composed the song that served as a title track. 

The album’s sequel, recorded early this year, is
“Spain Again” (Emarcy), and it works hard to deserve
the title. There’s another song by Mr. Corea — the
whirling, flamenco-haunted “La Fiesta” — and two
originals apiece from Tomatito and Mr. Camilo.
Somewhat more surprisingly, there’s a generous helping
of classic Argentinean tangos, front-loaded on the
album like a suite. 

Monday’s early set began in similar fashion, with the
Astor Piazzolla anthem “Libertango” and the Carlos
Gardel entreaty “El Día Que Me Quieras.” The first
theme was a mere crowd-pleaser, florid and unsubtle.
But Tomatito prefaced the second with a thoughtful
introduction arranged by Luis Salinas, which Mr.
Camilo answered gracefully, holding his sustain pedal
so that each arpeggio rang out, harplike, before
blending into the next one. It was a fine example of
attentive duologue, later echoed in a pair of ballads
by Mr. Camilo, “Twilight Glow” and “Two Much.” 

Elsewhere, the music was more insistent, for better or
worse. A medley of the jazz standards “Waltz for
Debby” and “Stella by Starlight” felt belabored.
Tomatito didn’t seem fully at home with their chord
progressions and, while Mr. Camilo has absorbed the
harmonic language of Bill Evans (who wrote the first
song and frequently performed the other), his
pulverizing attack had a flattening effect. 

At times, Mr. Camilo’s fulsome pianism also threatened
to overwhelm the general dynamics of the duo. On “Fuga
y Misterio,” another Piazzolla tango, he played a
Bach-like two-handed counterpoint that rendered
Tomatito’s part irrelevant until a welcome slow coda.
“From Within,” a Caribbean ode by Mr. Camilo, was
similarly unbalanced. 

But balance wasn’t a problem on the two flamenco
showcases in the set, “La Fiesta” and a song by
Tomatito. Both songs were deliriously note-stuffed and
steeped in theatrical flourish. “A Mi Niño José,” the
Tomatito original that he and Mr. Camilo kicked off
with some atonal strumming and pounding, concluded in
a bristling round of exchanges. And as the two
musicians lobbed phrases back and forth across the
stage, their faces bore the same delighted grin, an
expression that lost nothing to musical translation. 

Michel Camilo and Tomatito perform tonight at the Blue
Note, 131 West Third Street, GreenwichVillage; (212)
475-8592, bluenote.net.

Roy Durfee
P.O. Box 40219
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87196-0219
rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com

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