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Review: Chris Botti

Chris Botti- Photo Credit: Greg Laird
Chris Botti
(Union Chapel, Islington, 6th October 2010, review by Paul Jefferies)

Let’s start in the middle: Chris Botti (pronounced Boat-ee) announces the next tune, Flamenco Sketches. He says – I’m slightly paraphrasing here- “and tonight it’s gonna be played with more style and skill than it has been since 1959”. Deep intake of breath from a large chunk of the audience. Then he lets us all breathe again: “Just joking”.

Despite the reality check, the quintet on stage with their leader gave a superb ‘modern’ rendition; at once giving musical nods to the Miles Davis original, but meandering through some challenging time and rhythm changes, without losing the thread of this beautiful five chord post-be-bop classic.

I went along to this concert with an open but slightly apprehensive mind. Mr Botti’s style appeared to me to be super smooth jazz and imbued with Classic FM – well – smooth classical favourites. Nice, but just like velvety valve hi-fi, it can be a little lacking in excitement. So the surprise to me was to hear enough dynamic contrast to have any smooth jazz aficionado frantically scurrying for the Beosound remote.

Both Ave Maria and The Look of Love, as expected, made appearances on the bill. But the mellifluous ‘Botti’ tone soon gave way to adventurous solos from the man himself (never quite moving out of the harmonic box, but much harder edged than I’d expected) and the quintet led by a totally on-form guitarist Mark Whitfield, and technically riveting pianist Geoff Keezer. They blended beautiful melodies with high precision funk, swing and outright rock, and injected the concert with an extremely watchable and musically satisfying show. Good Morning Heartache was a highlight.

There were strong contributions from two guest performers : Lisa Fischer ’s vocals were a tour de force, almost defying classification – just damned fine. And the addition of explosive violinist Caroline Campbell moved the musicianship up a considerable number of notches.

On a sourer note, this most certainly beautiful music venue must resolve some issues if it expects to continue to host international gigs at premium ticket prices. An hour’s queuing outside is just not on, and the PA people need to try harder. They should be able to get it right, and from the start. Sound quality was thoroughly amateurish for at least half of the concert. This didn’t help Anthony Strong’s fine warm-up act, whose skills were veiled in an amateurish mix, but after much tweaking the man with the headphones produced – far too late in the day – an excellent balance doing justice to the Chris Botti band’s performance.

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5 replies »

  1. Could not agree more about the shambolic venue management. Drove down from North Yorkshire hoping for something to eat but joined the queue then stood in linefor over one hour to be let in just as the support act had finished. Didn't have time to use the bar so sat thirsty and hungry through out the gig. Poor form considering premium ticket price.
    On a positive note, the musicianship of Botti and his ensabled band and guest, was top draw and I would have absolutly no hesitation to see again, but maybe in a different venue where they know how to look after their guests

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  2. Sorry to hear about the queue. I saw it, but was able to ignore it – I was on the guest list. (sorry!). I hope Union Chapel get their act together soon. It's a cool venue.

    And the gig was great entertainment, with a phenomenal all star band. Whitfield, Kilson and Keezer in particular…

    Btw. Geoffrey Keezer is due to come back to the UK in November to work with his Storms/Nocturnes Trio – with Tim Garland and Joe Locke. Their new album project is currently getting loads of hits on kickstarter.com, and they'll be at the 606 Club for the London Jazz Festival on Nov. 18.

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