|JAZZ REVIEW; In Higher and Higher Gear
Published: 05 - 03 - 2002 , Late Edition - Final , Section E , Column 5 , Page 32 NEW YORK TIMES
By BEN RATLIFF
The Dominican jazz pianist Michel Camilo plays it close to the edge. His music is effervescent to the point of distraction; it is suave to the point of frilliness. But what saves it -- and this process typically happens several times in one of his well-made sets -- is a crescendo that passes between him and his drummer, Horacio Hernandez.
His late set at the Blue Note on Tuesday night was no different. Mr. Camilo and his trio were playing music from his new album, ''Triangulo'' (Telarc).
The pieces included an original melody called ''Piece of Cake,'' with blues-ballad filigree; a stately version of Ernesto Lecuona's ''Comparsa''; and a mambo jam called ''Descarga for Tito,'' which started in a high gear and grew higher. Between the pianist and the drummer sat Anthony Jackson, dexterously snaking his hands around his electric bass and making short, popping notes.
Aesthetically, Mr. Camilo begins in jazz, rather than in Afro-Caribbean music, and that jazz is a sense of harmony and touch learned from Bill Evans and Herbie Hancock mixed with the long improvisatory phrases and pure keyboard hunger of an Art Tatum. But Mr. Camilo's music has its own distinguishing mark: it is relentlessly bright and happy.
The teasing, abruptness and perverse sense of humor that you sometimes find in the Afro-Cuban tradition of piano playing is muted here, and this can restrict the dimensionality of the music. On the other hand, the music isn't coded; in its fussiness and eagerness to impress, it has a wide-open, seemingly universal appeal, and it is hard to resist the amiable optimism coming from it.