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Dominican bandleader Michel Camilo goes all out with this dizzying display of Latin big band virtuosity, which marks his 25th album as a leader and his 40th year since moving to New York. Acclaimed in jazz circles for his audacious trio explorations, the pianist reconvened his 18-piece, all-star orchestra for the first time in a quarter-century.
Eleven tracks, previously recorded in trio settings for the most part, are reimagined here as expansive forays. Longtime collaborator/trumpeter Michael Philip Mossman shares equally in the album’s arrangement credits, each piece culled from musically defining moments in Camilo’s career. The result is a celebratory retrospective of the composer’s output, at the forefront of which is the commingling of his most cherished elements — improvisation, classical rigor and deep Latin jazz roots.
Paying tribute to percussionist Sammy Figueroa, album opener “And Sammy Walked In” swings with Latin jazz swagger. A lean, buoyant brass section billows with precision around clean, cascading piano lines and a rhythmic cadence marked by percolating percussion. “Mongo’s Blues” tips its hat to yet another legendary percussionist, Mongo Santamaría, in a latticework of blues, swing and Afro-Cuban rhythms, interlaced by the warm vocals of percussionist Eliel Lazo.
Featuring a pliable solo by the ensemble’s youngest member, emerging Cuban trumpeter Kali Rodriguez-Peña, “Liquid Crystal,” ebbs and flows with the urgency of roiling waves. “Just Like You” is a beguiling ballad Camilo originally penned as a sultry soundtrack composition for a film. It preserves much of its original smolder while accommodating luxuriantly limber interplay between Camilo and saxophonist Antonio Hart. “On Fire” boasts a sinuous alto sax solo courtesy of Sharel Cassity, while “Repercussions,” a third homage, melds bop stylings and Afro-Cuban grooves in a nod to Art Blakey’s alchemy.
Camilo concludes his trip down memory lane with his earliest composition of the set, “Hello & Goodbye.” Recorded only on his 1985 debut album, which was released solely in Japan, it reflects the many hues that have colored the maestro’s oeuvre throughout the years — bright, bold and brimming with passion.— Lissette Corsa