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martes, agosto 15, 2006

Michel Camilo & Tomatito - Spain

Artículo de Alan Cibils

I will be honest. When I first heard about Spain, the Michel Camilo-Tomatito collaboration, I was skeptical. After all, the piano-guitar combination isn't that common or even necessarily a priori appealing, given the overlap in harmonic capabilities. Furthermore, they often substitute each other and it is often considered--with reason--that piano and guitar form an either-or proposition.

Of course, there are memorable piano-guitar collaborations. The Bill Evans-Jim Hall collaborations for the Blue Note label come to mind. Both Undercurrent and Intermodulation are extraordinary recordings. Two jazz giants like Evans and Hall would pull it off if anyone could.

Then there is the explosive Horacio Salgán-Ubaldo de Lío duo in the Argentine tango genre. Salgán (together with Osvaldo Pugliese) is one of the greatest tango pianists of all time, and guitarist de Lío is a true master of the tango guitar. While these musicians are not well known in the U.S. (except in tango circles) they are very well known in South America and Europe, particularly in France. Here again we have two masters of their instruments and genre producing very provocative, enjoyable, and thoroughly engaging music.

Which takes us back to Michel Camilo and Tomatito. Michel Camilo needs no introduction to jazz and afro-cuban jazz aficionados. A veteran with many recordings that eloquently speak for themselves, his playing and arrangements are equally fiery in trio or big band settings, and his duo with conga virtuoso Giovanni Hidalgo (Hands of Rhythm, RMM) is earth-shattering. The list of musicians with whom he has collaborated includes greats like Mongo Santamaria, Anthony Jackson, and the saxophonist Paquito D'Rivera, among many others.

I suspect that Tomatito (José Fernández Torres) is less well known to U.S. audiences, even though he is widely known and admired in his native Spain, the rest of Europe, and much of Latin America. Flamenco guitarist extraordinaire, Tomatito (literally "little tomato," named after his father and grandfather, both known as Tomate) rose to national and international prominence when he joined Camarón de la Isla, considered by some (including Paco de Lucía) to be one of the greatest flamenco singers of all times. Tomatito played with Camarón for many years until the singer's tragic death at the age of 42 in 1992. Since then, Tomatito has continued as a torchbearer of the gypsy flamenco tradition of southern Spain.

The program on Spain is wide-ranging and enthralling. "Spain Intro," from Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez, is pensive, melancholic, almost haunting, clearly establishing Tomatito's mastery of classical Spanish guitar. Chick Corea's "Spain" is tempestuous, with both artists having plenty of space to stretch out and strut their stuff. It is a good contrast to "Bésame Mucho," with Tomatito's plaintive flamenco guitar articulately expressing the warmth and desire of the song's lyrics. "A mi niño José" and "Two much/Love theme" also provide good contrast to each other. The former is at times energetic and percussive, at times contemplative, with a strong flamenco feel and hints of clave and milonga. The latter is dreamlike, almost ethereal with beautiful, heartfelt solos by both Camilo and Tomatito.

Tango influences are clearly present in "Para Troilo y Salgán" and "Aire de tango" by Argentine composer Luis Salinas. The first is a tribute to the above mentioned Salgán and to Aníbal (a.k.a. Pichuco) Troilo, generally considered to have been the greatest tango bandoneonist ever. This tune has a strong tango feel which Camilo and Tomatito infuse with passion and power. The second piece is more pensive--the melancholy feelings that are so pervasive in tango permeate it throughout. Tomatito moves seamlessly between tango, milonga, and flamenco making the genres flow in and out of each other, the Spanish guitar being their common link. In both of these pieces the artists show their versatility and ability to genuinely interpret different Latin American music styles while infusing them with the music and styles for which they are best known.

"Vacilona" is perhaps my preferred tune of the set, even though I had a very hard time picking a favorite given the profoundly captivating quality of the whole disc. It has a very jazzy feel, with a tumbao here, a bossa guitar or piano riff there, with Camilo and Tomatito showing playful and thoughtful interaction during each other's solos. Given the well established credentials of both musicians and the diversity of the music program on this recording, the comparisons with the Evans-Hall and Salgán-de Lío duos are not idle ones. This is jazz and flamenco, tango and clave, fire, passion, and soul, as masterfully and tastefully combined as a well-aged Rioja wine. And like that wine, it will warm your soul, make you dance or lay back in ecstasy. Whatever your reactions, rest assured that it will leave you wanting more.

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