by Nick Stubblefield
When you’re off to see an artist perform for the fifth time, it’s reasonable to keep your expectations in check. If it’s jazz pianist Michel Camilo and his trio, however, you can bet those expectations will be met and surpassed. The trio burned up the Blue Note NYC this past weekend with another set of tunes from Camilo’s extensive repertoire of original compositions. Camilo’s piano abilities are a well-documented tour de force and his infectious energy is ferocious, so keeping up with Camilo is a bit of an endurance trial. Luckily for the audience, bassist Ricky Rodriguez and percussionist Mark Walker more than held their own on a set that crossed genres and styles but always maintained Camilo’s signature exuberance.
The late-night set kicked off with a tune that epitomizes Camilo’s compositional and playing style — the high-octane “On the Other Hand,” from the album of the same name. The Caribbean-influenced tune sports rapid-fire, physics-defying repeat notes in the right hand while the left hammers a grooving counter-rhythm.
Camilo followed up with “Mongo’s Blues,” a work he dedicated to the late Cuban jazz percussionist Mongo Santamaria. A punctuated, syncopated ostinato in the left hand and a restrained, bluesy melody open the number, then the piece’s dynamics and rhythmic entropy intensify to the bursting point, then give way to a thunderous drum break from the polished percussionist Mark Walker.