Jazz pianist Michel Camilo is a big fan of music festivals.
The Dominican-born musician, known for his work with Tito Puente, Jaco Pastorius and Herbie Hancock along with his extensive genre-hopping solo career, has nothing but festivals on his touring plate this summer. His new, stripped-down trio Mano a Mano will be in Europe next month, hitting major festivals throughout the continent. But before that, they’ll stop at the 35th annual Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival at Saratoga Performing Arts Center for an amphitheater set on Saturday.
Sense of camaraderie
Camilo craves the sense of camaraderie at these festivals — not just among the audience, but among the musicians on the bills.
“I get to hear all of my colleagues and friends,” he said recently from his home in Bedford. “The good thing about a festival, as the name implies, is it’s festive. It’s a celebration of jazz — not just jazz, a celebration of music, and it gives us [musicians] a chance to catch up with each other, all of us, and not just the performance side. In a way, it’s like looking at yourself in a mirror, and when you hear what everybody else is doing, from those encounters creative juices get flowing as well.”
35th annual Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival
When: Starting at noon Saturday and Sunday
Where: Saratoga Performing Arts Center, 108 Avenue of the Pines, Saratoga Springs
How Much: (Saturday) $80, $75, $55 (adults) and $65, $60, $40, free (children); (Sunday) $70, $65, $55, $50 (adults) and $55, $50, $35, free (children)
More Info: 587-3330, www.spac.org
The Saratoga festival will offer plenty of chances for Camilo to consort with his musical peers. The two-day event, which runs through Sunday, features 21 different acts from all jazz traditions spread out across SPAC’s amphitheater and gazebo stage, including bass prodigy Esperanza Spalding, Charles Mingus tribute the Mingus Big Band, vocalist Diana Krall and smooth jazz trumpeter Chris Botti.
Jazz Fest schedule
Saturday, June 30
Noon — Mario Abney & The Abney Effect
1:20 — Christian McBride Inside Straight
2:40 — Michel Camilo “Mano a Mano”
4:10 — Mingus Big Band
5:50 — Esperanza Spalding “Radio Music Society”
7:30 — Chris Botti
9:15 — Maceo Parker
12:15 — Hailey Niswanger
1:35 — Jeremy Pelt Quintet
2:55 — Catherine Russell
4:15 — Mario Abney & The Abney Effect
5:35 — Pedrito Martinez
Sunday, July 1
Noon — Trio of Oz featuring Omar Hakim and Rachel Z
1:20 — The Yellowjackets
2:40 — Hiromi Trio Project
4:20 — Arturo O’Farrill Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra
6:05 — Diana Krall
8:05 — Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue
12:15 — Edmar Castaneda
1:35 — Sachal Vasandani
3 — Steve Kroon Sextet
4:25 — Trio of Oz featuring Omar Hakim and Rachel Z
5:45 — Brian Mitchell Band
Camilo has played in combos ranging from duos to big bands to classical orchestras over the years, but Mano a Mano is different from his usual setups. The group currently features Camilo’s longtime collaborators Giovanni Hidalgo on hand percussion and Lincoln Goines on upright bass and has been touring behind Camilo’s album of the same name since its release in the fall of last year. (The album featured a different bassist, Charles Flores.)
“Everybody gets into this different sound,” Camilo said. “It’s a jazz trio, but having Latin percussion instead of drums shades the trio to a different realm, and the audience loves this twist, this sound, this different concept.”
Along with the eight original compositions and standards such as John Coltrane’s “Naima” from the “Mano a Mano” album, the trio has been tackling songs from throughout Camilo’s career, including material from his 1997 duo album with Hidalgo, “Hands of Rhythm,” and other less likely compositions originally performed by big bands as well as trios. Camilo has been referring to the group’s sound as “chamber music for a rhythm section.”
“Each concert we surprise each other constantly — that’s what jazz is all about, and it’s important to keep that tradition alive, keep that flame,” he said.
“The beauty is by now, this repertoire has been seasoned. . . . I think the grooves just get deeper, and the audience, with these foot-tapping grooves — they just connect with the exchange between the three musicians, the dialogue onstage, the looks, the smiles, the winks going all over the place. This is a very interactive kind of trio, and each one knows when to support each other, and also at the same time when to give space to a soloist.”
Botti, who also performs Saturday in the amphitheater, will bring his usual band to the stage, featuring guest vocalist Lisa Fischer and violinist Caroline Campbell along with drums, guitar, bass and piano.
His latest album, “Impressions,” focuses strictly on ballads, offering a mix of modern pop (R. Kelly’s “You Are Not Alone”), classical (Chopin’s Prelude No. 20 in C Minor) and songs from the American Songbook (“Over the Rainbow,” “Summertime”). The album features guest performances by, among others, country star Vince Gill and guitar virtuoso Mark Knopfler — who gives a rare guest vocal performance on “What a Wonderful World.”
“It’s a very moody kind of record, so we don’t want to do the whole record start to end [live],” Botti said, from a tour stop in Manila, Philippines.
“But we’re able to kind of reduplicate a lot of the big orchestral things [from the album], which surprised me a little bit, that it comes off with the same power without the orchestra.”
He got the idea for a strictly ballad album when he first heard pianist Keith Jarrett’s 1998 solo album, “The Melody at Night, With You,” about seven years ago.
“He plays these very famous songs, like “I Loves You, Porgy” and a bunch of other things, on solo piano, and he doesn’t spend a lot of time blowing jazz through it,” Botti said.
“It’s almost bordering on an amazing jazz musician’s take on classical music. . . . I thought, I’d love to make an orchestral trumpet version, the same style or kind of record. And [‘Impressions’] doesn’t really move away from that; it keeps in the same mood, 11 ballads. There’s not any real swing numbers on the record. It just kind of sets you on that mood; it’s a real powerful, emotional record.”
For Botti, the mix of pop, classical and jazz found on the album is nothing new. Born in Portland, Ore., he got his first breakthroughs touring with Frank Sinatra, Buddy Rich and, most notably, Paul Simon, in the early ’90s.
When he released his first solo album, “First Wish,” in 1995, he brought all these influences to his composing.
“If I’m sitting in the audience and hear yet another trumpet player — here they come, they’re like stable mates, doing the next jazz tune that everyone does,” he said. “That’s boring to me. Maybe not for someone else, for jazz purists; then they want to hear seven different bebop songs. But the reality is that I’m never going to be able to play ‘Donna Lee’ as good as Clifford Brown or Wynton [Marsalis]. I think a lot of young trumpet players make the mistake of trying to, when they don’t really know what their strengths are.”
His stint as featured soloist on Sting’s 1999 “Brand New Day” tour increased his profile — and also gave him a love of touring that’s led him to perform 300 dates per year.
“A lot of musicians will tour for three months and be like, ‘Oh, the road, I can’t wait to get home,. . . Botti said. “For me, I get home, and I’m immediately thinking, I can’t wait to get back on the road. I really enjoy it. I learned a lot being around people like Sting, who definitely has an appetite for being on the road too. . . . I feel like it’s the only way to really reach an audience these days.”