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Michel Camilo

The final concert of the GAM/Jazz SLC series features Dominican composer and pianist Michel Camilo and is dedicated to the 150th anniversary of Daynes Music.

Gordon Hanks, founder of the jazz series, wanted to do something special to mark one of Utah's oldest companies.

"For any business to survive this long, particularly a music store, is a miracle," Hanks said. "I wanted to do something really special for this celebration, so I invited Michel Camilo back to join us and he could. It's going to be an exciting concert."

From the moment the Michel Camilo Trio steps onto the stage, it becomes clear that this isn't your parent's jazz. Infusing and informing Camilo's latest work, "Mano a Mano," are the deeply rich flavors and sounds of '40s Cubop and African-Caribbean jazz. The album's 10 cuts reflect the exquisite imagination and craftsmanship of Camilo's genius as a composer.

In a communication glitch, my phone call was two hours earlier than expected. Before I could offer to call at a later hour, Camilo was on the other end of the receiver. He was excited, energetic and extremely gracious with his conversation.

"We always love to come to Salt Lake and we were so glad we were free for this event," Camilo said.

At the early age of 5, Camilo wrote his first piano composition, which spawned a 13-year course of study at the National Conservatory. "I was a member of the National Symphony Orchestra when I was 16, but I was really attracted to the instant composition and conversation of jazz."

Like many classically trained musicians who eventually succumb to the allure of jazz, Camilo was fascinated by the freedom and inventiveness of the jazz form. "Every night on the stage we have a different artistic experience," Camilo said. "We speak to each other through our instruments and we share all of this with the audience. The story is always just a little bit different and that's what makes it exciting."

To be certain though, Camilo emphasizes the value of how much each musician contributes to the success of his compositions. "Look, I am on the stage with two other very talented musicians and we are like a family," he said. "We know each other very well and when we play we leave the ego out and try to be generous to each other. Whatever each man brings to the music makes the experience so much richer and better."

Figuratively speaking, Camilo's sense of alchemy in his compositions is tremendously enhanced by the musical dialogue of his fellow players. He is a philosophical blend of mathematician and playwright.

"I am a storyteller in my music," Camilo said. "The music is filled with dialogue and the conversation of the instruments. To tell a new story every time is a challenge. The contributions of my musicians, whatever they offer, makes us all better. Makes the music more powerful. If it is working, the sum of all the parts becomes one idea. But I never forget that the music is the master and we are the students."

"Mano a Mano" is Camilo's greatest departure from the pure canon of classic jazz and a deeper exploration into world beat.

"We know jazz," Camilo said. "I wanted to do something new and explore, so I combined many traditions together. I have replaced the drums with congas and smaller percussions. It changes the flavor of the music. It makes it fresh."

Camilo is not afraid to place a love ballad against a fiery and electrically charged Latin-style beat. What unfolds on the album is a carefully measured exchange between music of the past and music of the present. "Mano a Mano" is thoughtfully constructed to feature the very best of Camilo's trio and to, once again, highlight the brilliance of his compositions.

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"I hope this will be exciting for the people of Salt Lake," Camilo said. "They will hear some very new things. Giovanni Hidalgo will be on percussion but the bass will be played by my very good friend Lincoln Goines."

Asked what he would still like to explore in his music, Camilo offered up a hint of an invite. "You know, one of these times when I come back to Salt Lake, I would like to go more into the symphonic world and I know you have a great symphony here. I know Gordon is working on this idea. Wouldn't that be wonderful?"

If you go …

What: Michel Camilo Trio

When: April 9, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City

How much: $30 for adults, $10 for students

Phone: 801-355-2787


Jeff Metcalf is a professor of English at the University of Utah and an avid jazz fan.