Michel Camilo, "Live in London" (Redondo Music). Fred Hersch, "[Open Book]" (Palmetto)
The ultimate jazz piano extrovert and the ultimate jazz piano introvert. It hasn't escaped notice in jazz that Cuban piano players play the bejabbers out of their instruments (hear Gonzala Rubalcaba, Chucho Valdes and his father Bebo Valdes.) It isn't just that they are astonishing virtuosos who rip off pianistic impossibilities as if they were trifles learned as babies starved for attention; it's their Tatumesque presence at the piano i.e. they, as archetypal jazz piano virtuosos, give a magnificent sense that they were born to play the instrument and do it however they jolly well want. And let anyone who complains about spells of overly percussive banging or questionable taste go to a harp recital.
Camilo here reminds you that, by God, the piano IS a percussion instrument of atom-smashing power and infectious dance rhythm. He is astounding on "Live in London" -- a two-handed player who from his fantastic opening "From Within" is out to play you into bedazzled submission. He succeeds.
Be awed and delighted, by all means, by the rest, whether it's Nat "King" Cole's "The Frim Fram Saucer" (which quickly stops being winsome so it can wail and fly) or Dizzy Gillespie's "Manteca" or the final medley of "I Got Rhythm" and "Sing Sing Song." It's Camilo's first live solo album and it's quite literally amazing. Recorded in 2015 in London's Queen Elizabeth Hall.
On the other hand, Fred Hersch's "[Open Book]" is more than a bit of a disappointment. Hersch is beyond wonderful in the company of such cozy musical friends as Bobby Previte and Jane Ira Bloom. But he admits here on this solo disc that he has gotten comfortable "playing from phrase to phrase" or "improvising with no safety net or preconceived ideas -- I just went wherever it took me until it felt right to arrive at a musical and emotional destination." Unfortunately that doesn't mean it will take listeners to the same place, which, frankly, I don't think it does for far too much of "[open book.]" He's best where he has real places to go -- on Monk's "Eronel" or Billy Joel's "And So It Goes."
4 stars (out of four) for Camilo
2 1/2 stars (out of four) for Hersch