Friday, October 27, 2006

Sleek & Smooth

Thank you, Jill Alphonso, for a terrific review in Life! today.

You know how fed up I get when reporters get it wrong.

So I didn't manage to post my own take before the paper's version came out. Blame it on a 9-hour AST session yesterday, followed by another hour meeting with the STC panel. Didn't realize sitting for prolonged periods would cause massive leg pain. Postural venous pooling, I reckon.

Anyhow, I digress.

Review of Chris Botti's Concert, 25th October 2006 at the Victoria Theatre

What can I say -- it was excellent!

My only complaint is the choice of venue. Have always envisioned Botti gracing the stage at the Esplanade Concert Hall, 'cos the VT ( IMHO ) is a little too old and musty for such a class act. My last visit to the place was, ohhh, 12-13 years ago, I think -- back when I was in the RJC Chorale and we held a Broadway-themed extravaganza for 2 nights ( with resident Straits Times journalist Goh Chin Lian stealing the limelight with his solos ).

I digress again. Apologies.

In case you're wondering, Botti looks exactly like his photos. Meaning he's very blonde, strikingly handsome, and very very slim.

Striding out in a sharp ensemble comprising a pin-striped suit and sky blue shirt, he launched straight into Embraceable You, filling the auditorium with his signature mellow tone. I always emphasize how deceptively easy it all looks and sounds, when it's the exact opposite. Perhaps this isn't so evident on his concert DVDs, but the immense effort required to hit those high notes and hold them forever is very obvious when you watch him 'live', as his face flushes pink then returns to normal once he takes a breath.

Together with his amazing band -- Billy Childs on the piano, OMG! Didn't expect that! -- the next 90 minutes were pure heaven, transitioning effortlessly between soft ballads and all-out jam sessions, covering the gamut from mainstream fare to legendary Miles Davis pieces.

Songs include numbers from his 2 latest releases -- When I Fall In Love and To Love Again -- which was a smart move since this is his first solo performance here and audiences are still warming up to him. But he also took a few giant leaps of faith with hard-core improv compositions like Flamenco Sketches and Relativity.

Favourites of the evening? Of course I have a few. :)

What'll I Do is always a pleasure. Although he did a duet with Paula Cole for his album, the purely instrumental version is equally mesmerizing. He gave a brief yet insightful intro before he began, describing how Irving Berlin ( who wrote the song ) used to defy musical convention by composing only in the key of C major. He then added his own take on this unusual habit, nicely commenting how this only served to enhance Berlin's ability to pen some of the most beautiful melodies known to date, and how simplicity should never be deemed a disadvantage.

My Funny Valentine was terrific. This brooding Miles Davis classic is perfect for Botti's own quiet style, and he sportingly serenaded a lucky lady in the front row, extending his hand for a friendly handshake before and after his performance. I happened to be sitting in the 6th row -- and on the correct side! -- so I had an excellent view of him the whole time. Absolutely magical.

A Thousand Kisses Deep was an unexpected surprise. I used to lump it in the muzak category, but his 'live' version is galaxies away from what you hear on the album ( of the same title ). Opting for more drums and bass, the pumping tempo builds up in the second half, with some cool jamming thrown in. Botti let his band take turns with solos, but kept rhythm by bobbing his head as he stood at the side. Loved it.

Closing with Frank Sinatra's One For My Baby, One More For The Road was very apt. This is one of my all-time faves ( Robbie Williams does a flawless cover, check out his Royal Albert Hall DVD ), and Botti really captured the essence of its melancholy. It was just him and the piano, which is exactly how it should always be done. Fabulous.

What you didn't read in the paper, however, is Botti's many anecdotes scattered throughout the show. For example:

He flew into Singapore direct from NYC that very morning, before playing for us that same night. Despite the inevitable jet lag and fatigue, he remained unfailingly friendly and blew his guts out for us. Really admire that.

He did a humourous bit about Google, which had us in stitches. Something about how, if you type words / sentences which don't exactly make sense, the search engine will automatically ask "did you mean...?". So he joked that if you type "we went out and she never called back", Google will ask "did you mean she dumped you?", and mentioned how ( true or not ) he found his drummer by asking Google "who's the baddest ass drummer in the world?".
All this, delivered in an almost deadpan fashion. Botti's quite the standup comedian. :)

Last but not least, he talked about an early gig with the late, great Sinatra, and how he almost passed out when the latter complimented him on a trumpet solo during a rehearsal.

Botti comes across as sincere, though slightly reserved. He very clearly loves what he does, and you can tell from the excitement in his voice whenever he recounts an unforgettable experience with a jazz legend, or relates how he first fell in love with the instrument.

His band members also deserve worthy mention, especially guitarist Mark Whitfield who is piping hot on the strings. I was most delighted with his short solo on Stevie Wonder's Isn't She Lovely, which literally popped out of nowhere and gave me goosebumps.

Drummer Billy Kilson, on the other hand, truly is "the baddest ass drummer in the world". Personally speaking, he's definitely the best I've seen! There was a solo on Relativity where he did stuff that defies all laws of physics. Astounding.

Last but not least, a short mention about Botti's bassist ( I think his name is Mark Kelly, but don't quote me on that ). Skilled, of course, but I realized when he appeared on-stage that I actually spoke to him before the show, when I happened to pass by the backstage entrance and bumped into him taking a break outside. I asked if he knew someone I was looking for, and he said no, but was extremely polite and couldn't stop smiling. Nice chap. :)

And yes, I did get Botti's autograph, thanks to a kind lady who helped me out.

Here's hoping he'll return very soon, for a bigger gig at the Esplanade.

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