First, just inside the festival gate, the audience packs the Harbor Stage for Hiromi. Her light-to-squeaky onstage voice belies her huge piano sound and technique, applied full-bore to longtime warhorses "Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise" and "I Got Rhythm." Hiromi's stride-style left hand pumps rhythm to support the fabulous speed and articulation of her right. And, with her electronic keyboard and guitarist John Shannon in her band, she's got fusion in her arsenal, too. She calls her group Sonic Bloom.
"Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise" (Hammerstein, Romberg)
"I Got Rhythm" (G. & I. Gershwin)
Michel Camilo Trio
"Piece of Cake" (Camilo)
"Poinciana" (Simon & Bernier, arr. Camilo)
"Descarga for Tito" (Camilo)
"A Night in Tunisia" (Gillespie, Hendricks, Paparelli)
On the main stage, Michel Camilo is a Newport veteran. After Hiromi attended his Master classes at Berklee College of Music in Boston, the two performed duo piano concerts in Japan. Camilo is the current Jazz Creative Chair with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. He and the DSO have performed Camilo's first piano concerto and will stage the American premiere of his second in February 2011, with Leonard Slatkin conducting. In other words, Michel Camilo operates at the top of the musical world and without borders.
In a recent interview with Tomas Pena on Jazz.com, Camilo got to the heart of something important about our times.
"People don't realize we are living in a golden era of jazz," Camilo says. "Musicians of my generation are touring and playing constantly. The last time we played Tokyo, it was for a crowd of 5,000 people, and that's not the only concert where we get audiences like that. We did a concert in Germany last year, and it was filmed for German television. Things like that are happening."
His trio with Charles Flores and Cliff Almond is long-running. His more episodic group is the Michel Camilo Big Band. It might be playing in the U.S. soon; at least it's rumored that a CD is coming.
And musicians, check out these voicings for the first three chords of "Poinciana" below, courtesy of Camilo, which you can watch on YouTube.
Michel Camilo Trio: Michel Camilo, piano; Charles Flores, bass; Cliff Almond, drums.
Hiromi's Sonic Bloom: Hiromi, piano and keyboards; John Shannon, guitar; Tony Grey, bass; Mauricio Zottarelli, drums.
Thanks to George Wein's CareFusion Jazz Festival 55. Recordings by Steve Remote of Aurasonic Ltd. and WGBH. Mixes by Antonio Oliart (Hiromi) and Duke Markos (Camilo).