(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.