JAZZ / DIRK SUTRO : Acoustic Jazz Pianist Puts Fun and Intensity in Music

Pianist Michel Camilo prefers playing acoustic jazz, like the great beboppers he looks up to, but he doesn't see his music as old-fashioned.

"I like to portray the energy and passion of our times. It's very important that my music sounds like music of the '90s," said the Dominican-born Camilo, who opened five nights at Elario's on Wednesday.

Camilo has lived in New York for 11 years and says the urban experience infuses his music with a certain intensity, also a degree of fun.

"I think jazz should be fun, not just philosophical or cerebral. When I think of jazz, I think of the great smiles of Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie."

Growing up in Santo Domingo, Camilo was schooled as a classical pianist and became the youngest member of his country's national symphony orchestra at 16. But by then, he was already heading in other directions.

"They had two jazz shows on the radio when I was growing up, and I first heard them when I was 14," Camilo said. "When I heard Art Tatum, that changed my life. Up to that point, I thought that to play the instrument fully and with spirit, you had to play classical music. Then all of a sudden, I hear this man playing with an incredible feeling, rich harmonies and amazing control. Immediately that attuned me to jazz."

Camilo's percussive attack has often been compared to that of pianist McCoy Tyner, the former John Coltrane sideman whom Camilo listened to growing up. But he names pianists Oscar Peterson, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett and Bill Evans as additional influences--he was especially taken with Evans' harmonic structures, "which really come from classical music," he said.

Camilo has released two albums in Japan and three in the United States, including the new "On the Other Hand." His first two U.S. projects both hit No. 1 on several jazz charts, and the newest has already become a favorite of mainstream jazz radio stations. Camilo's music also gets airtime on light jazz radio, he said, although his music isn't in the lineup at KIFM (98.1) in San Diego.

At Elario's, Camilo is appearing with bassist Michael Bowie, who has worked with Dexter Gordon and Betty Carter, and young drummer Cliff Almond, 22, a former San Diegan.

Just when you think you've got Brazilian guitarist Ricardo Silveira nailed down, he throws another curve. "Amazon Secrets," his new album, has something for everyone, from the Brazillian-sounding tropical title track, to upbeat music with a funky bass backbeat, to sections which evoke a gamut of great guitar memories from Wes Montgomery to Jimi Hendrix.

Silveira, who splits his time between Los Angeles and Rio de Janeiro, appears at 2 p.m. Saturday as part of the "Chula Vista Harbor Days Festival and Tall Ship Parade" at the Chula Vista Marina.

Also on the bill is saxophonist Ronnie Laws, whose eighth solo album, "True Spirit," has just been released. Laws, who takes the stage at 3, didn't fare well the last time he was booked into San Diego. His scheduled 1989 appearance at Humphrey's Concerts by the Bay with brother Hubert, the flutist, was canceled because of poor ticket sales.

To reach the Chula Vista Marina, take Interstate 5 south, exit at J Street, head west and follow the flags.

With the 1989 album "Time Will Tell" on the verge of topping 100,000 in sales, San Diego jazz band Fattburger has released "Come and Get It," the follow-up. The group will host a record release party next Wednesday night at the Catamaran Resort Hotel in Pacific Beach.

On "Time Will Tell," Fattburger was boosted by guests like saxman Gerald Albright, but this time around they go it alone. Keyboardist Carl Evans Jr. wrote five songs, and guitarist Steve Laury, two. All of the material is original, except the band's version of Roberta Flack's "Feel Like Makin' Love."

According to Evans, Flack's song has already emerged as a radio favorite, and he predicted that the "Pat Metheny-ish" tune "Almost an Angel," penned by Laury, will also make radio waves.

Next month, the band will tour to support the new album, stopping in Sacramento, Fresno, Oakland, Anchorage and Houston before heading to Florida.

There is no cover charge Wednesday night. The music starts at 8.

RIFFS: Saxophonist Najee is one of the most commercially successful light jazz artists around. His first two albums, "Najee's Theme" and "Day by Day," both sold more than 500,000 copies. His new album is called "Tokyo Blue." Najee plays Humphrey's Concerts by the Bay next Wednesday night at 8. . . .

Guitarist Hank Easton and his Easton West Band beat out top locals Peter Sprague, Mark Lessman, Fattburger and Aubrey Faye to win Best Jazz honors in this year's Entertainer Music Awards, presented at the La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas last week. . . .

Clarinetist Buddy DeFranco and vibraphonist Terry Gibbs team up Saturday night at 8:30 on KPBS-TV's "Club Date" jazz program, repeating Monday afternoon at 1:30. . . .

Flutist Holly Hofmann plays the Palace Bar in the Horton Grand Hotel downtown Friday and Saturday nights in a crack quartet including guitarist Peter Sprague, bassist Bob Magnusson and drummer Tim McMahon. . . .

Tonight and Saturday night, Quartet Agape dishes up Afro-Cuban jazz at Croce's in the Gaslamp Quarter downtown; Friday night, it's Latin jazz with Algo Caliente, and Sunday, saxophonist Joe Marillo's jam session.

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