Review: Chris Botti
(Cadogan Hall, Tuesday November 3rd by Frank Griffith)
Chelsea Bridge. American trumpeter, Chris Botti, bridges Chelsea and Jazz at Cadogan Hall on 3 November.
Botti’s show was ticking all the right boxes. He was bringing an untypical jazz audience to a jazz-influenced programme; he was delivering plenty of lively improvisation to familiar melodies and settings.
His wonderfully varied set, with no originals, was divided into two main areas- American Songbook standards and more current film themes and Italian love songs associated with classical artists and opera singers. “Italo-noir,” one might call it, with minor-ish flavours and circular melodies not dissimilar to Michel Legrand, occasionally heading –dare one say it- the way of My Way. This is music for the Ipod and internet generation, city dwellers equally familiar with classical and film music, but less so with the jazz canon. The lone inclusion from that was Miles’s “Flamenco Sketches” from the legendary Kind of Blue session, but not really a tune in the sense of having a memorable melody.
This was a concert which fitted perfectly into Cadogan Hall, a recently refurbished and re-opened venue that is largely the province of classical music. Botti’s supreme technical command of the trumpet coupled with an eclectic programme satisfies this youngish, middle class audience to a tee.
Sporting a trim figure and dishwater-dyed hair in a dark suit, Botti appears to be in his 30s which isn’t bad for someone slighty older. His sound- rich and even throughout the registers sustains a velvety glow and never becomes shrill or crackly. Almost too perfect at times, unfettered by grittiness or rough edges. These are left to his outstanding 5 piece backing band, providing biting power, fire and intensity to the proceedings.
What a cast it is too, with recent Guggenheim Fellowship Award winner, pianist, Billy Childs who has accompanied Freddie Hubbard and Diane Reeves amongst others. He was the first one out of the blocks in the solo stakes with his harmonically challenging extemporisations on the opener, “When I Fall In Love” leading to a great stopgap climax followed by a sudden drop in activity and volume for the leader’s trumpet to bring about a quiet close.
Fiery guitarist, Mark Whitfield, like his boss, a former Verve artist, has also recorded with Dame Cleo Laine and Sir John Dankworth as well as my former bandleader, the late organist, Jack MCDuff, with whom I had the pleasure of playing with Mark some 20 years ago. His Benson-like tone and Wes inspired rhythmic chordal figures scored highly on his extended solo on “Flamenco Sketches”.
The solo honours of the night though went to drummer, Billy Kilson, who wowed the crowd will all sorts of cymbalistic cross-stickings to great dramatic effect on the closing band number, a recognisable rock anthem from the 1960s.
Other highlights included guest violinist, Caroline Campbell*, who soared heroically through “Emmanuelle” as well as the Ennio Morricone love theme from Cinema Paradiso. Her singing tone replete with flamboyant bow flourishes at the end of phrases proved a suitable foil to Botti’s equally gesticulative trumpet. An impressive coupling of two instruments not automatically associated in jazz- but a refreshing tonic nonetheless.
Singer, Cy Smith (the guitarist’s cousin, apparently) guested on three songs, The Look of Love, What’ll I Do and Good Morning Heartache to great effect. The latter of which was sung at a relatively fast tempo not quite allowing the words to come out naturally. This treatment as like the many other standards performed featured solo sections based firmly on one chord, vamping funkily away and did not allow the vocal to be reprised at the end leading to Ms Smith leaving the stage just before the band grooved the song to a quick close. There are quiet fears that the song’s composer, a Miss Holiday might be rustling in her grave as this is being written.
Chris, like so many Americans abroad is not afraid to chat to his audience and imparted a few lengthy stories including one about Botti’s former boss, Sting, crashing a wedding that Chris was playing at near one of his residences in Tuscany. He also made a plea to the audience (especially the younger ones) to continue to play and support LIVE music and not just experience it virtually and at a distance as is so much the case today. I’ll second that.
His final number, after a well deserved standing ovation, was an intimate duet with piano of Sinatra’s “One for my Baby” played acoustically from the audience making for a good close to a power-packed nearly two-hour set with no interval. He then scampered to the spacious and well appointed foyer to CD signings and photo-takings to an unending cue of appreciative fans. A great night.
Frank Griffith is appearing with John Etheridge at the Lord Rookwood in Leytonstone next Tuesday November 10th
(* Note: Thank you to an eagle-eyed reader for this)