Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Michel Camilo | Rhapsody in Blue

As we settle into the new century, Gunther Schuller's Third Stream concept remains alive and well. Another example of this jazz/classical crossover is Rhapsody in Blue, where Michel Camilo plays “classical” George Gershwin with the Barcelona Symphony. It's a terrific CD, but is it jazz?

You bet. For one thing, Gershwin was basically a jazz guy, responsible for any number of enduring standards, and the jazzy elements of his writing are inescapable. For another, although Camilo was “playing the ink” that Gershwin wrote--i.e., following the notes--he ”tried to make it sound improvised.” And it does: his original sculptings of time and dynamics result in a startlingly fresh interpretation of “Rhapsody in Blue.” (Since I've wrestled with that piano score, I recognized and was delighted by all of his points of departure.) In fact, Camilo's shadings bring such new life to this music that it's hard to believe it was premiered in 1924, over eighty years ago.

There are clear echoes of “Rhapsody” in “Concerto in F.” Written a year later, it has also become a crowd-pleaser in many orchestral repertoires. This concerto has moments of real beauty, but the other highlight, at least for me, was Camilo's solo take on “Prelude No. 2.” By slowing it down and bluesing it up--while still “playing the ink”--Camilo polishes brand new facets of this gem, and it all gleams.

There is no more formidable technique in jazz. Camilo began as a classical pianist in his native Dominican Republic, playing with their National Symphony at the age of sixteen, and later trained at Julliard. Fortunately he also has a deep artistic sensitivity--he doesn't have to go blazing around the keyboard for effect--and he can swing, something he's proved in each of his major label releases since the first one in 1988. This rare combination, together with this fine orchestra, makes his Gershwin program a clear, innovative and thoroughly enjoyable success.

By Dr. Judith Schlesinger - allaboutjazz.com

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