Bravura gigs don’t ordinarily warrant five stars in my book, but concerts by Michel Camilo – the Latin-jazz piano star from the Dominican Republic – are so astonishing that you abandon all aesthetic doubts and come out with your hands up. After his long single-set tour de force at the South Bank, and a breakneck encore that hurled together I Got Rhythm, Caravan, I Hear Music and a cascade of other swing hits, it was remarkable that the piano hadn’t collapsed in defeat, like Harpo Marx’s in A Day at the Races.

Michel Camilo



Camilo’s audiences expect the full virtuosic package of warp-speed runs, road-drill chords and jawdropping polyrhythms, but he’s a fine composer, too, and a moving ballad player with a silky touch. Early on, he played the drifting theme and glittery trills of his own A Place in Time with dreamy fervour, having bookended the piece with an opening tumble of salsa hooks and blasting Latin vamps, and the boogie-woogie title track from his solo album What’s Up?

5f3b3096-a893-47e3-a1b2-df3d8317e132-300x180He played the Paul Desmond/Dave Brubeck classic Take Five by accelerating from a respectful cover to a blitz of double-tempo improv and staccato chords while the left hand rocked steadily on. He then fired off a stride-piano swinger full of impudently flicked asides, followed by crisscrossed uptempo chords with both hands in a blur on a Cuban montuno original called Island Beat, and took a wistful trip toward Nat King Cole.

Dizzy Gillespie’s Manteca mingled thickly textured riffs, fast walking-bass swing and a flying unison passage, and Love for Sale was sleek and (almost) cool before the pianist embarked on a Broadway-hits medley encore. The show was a firework display. It was not quite flawless (Camilo travels so spontaneously and dangerously close to the edge it could hardly be that), and it often left his deeper musical sensibilities on the back burner – but it was hugely entertaining, and sublime in tantalising glimpses: the audience stood as one to let the amiable maestro know it. Via

Michel Camilo - "A Place In Time" Live!