Kev’s Music Review: Chris Botti

Posted: June 15th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Kev's Music Review | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

Its been over one month since my last blog post, and its not been for a lack of ideas, but a lack of time to write.  In the past month I’ve had the privilege of witnessing several awesome musicians perform and have been itching to do some reviews.

This review is of Chris Botti, one of the most high-profile jazz musicians on the world stage today.  “Discovered” by Oprah Winfrey several years back, Chris Botti has spent several years before as Sting’s main trumpeter, and has since produced countless albums focussed on recording mainstream jazz albums emulating the Miles Davis – Chet Baker tradition.  For his efforts, he has picked up a Grammy as well as his pianist, Billy Childs, who has two Grammies under his belt.  Working with such stars as Sting and Pavarotti, among others, Chris Botti’s albums consistently make it to the top of the jazz sales charts.

Many jazz fans who prefer contemporary jazz that picks up where the avant garde and fusion left off, may scoff at Chris Botti’s music, labeling it as ‘mainstream’ and ‘smooth jazz’.  I must admit I fell into that category.  I would only throw on a Chris Botti album if I were entertaining guests and needed something more palpable for background music.

Yet after spending time with him during his intimate press conference in Beijing, as well as attending his concert, I can say that I was thoroughly pleased and impressed by his level of professionalism and showmanship.  When Botti said in his press conference that he tries to make his shows a rollercoaster for his listeners, I was skeptical.  But his concert was absolutely entertaining, and truly was filled with wonderful dynamics of up-beat and slow-smooth pieces.  Chris Botti himself attested his band management style and choice of concert songs to his friend and mentor, Sting.  He chose to mix it up with pop pieces and his own composition, giving every kind of listener a little bit of heaven.

So now I have a renewed respect and admiration for Chris Botti.  And even while his music, while nice, doesn’t rock my world, I believe he has found the secret to what it takes to become a successful jazz musician in a non-jazz world.  He is an image marketing machine, that uses intoxicating pop tunes to lure new listeners to the world of Jazz, and hopefully capture a whole new generation who can propell the Jazz world forward.

For a country like China which is in desperate need of more sophisticated, intellectual world music, Chris Botti was a real treat and certainly won scores of new patrons to Jazz.

Speaking for all jazz enthusiasts who care about the future of Jazz in China, Chris Botti, I thank you.


Kev’s Music Review: The Bad Plus ‘Prog’

Posted: February 8th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Kev's Music Review | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

The Bad Plus ‘Prog’ Album Cover
There are few other jazz groups I am as excited about as The Bad Plus. What can I say about them? I am oftentimes left speechless. Perhaps the most creative band out there, they are redefining lyrical and melodic expression and cohesiveness while throwing you in a merry-go-round of tempo and rhythmic exercises.

The Bad Plus is most definitely the tightest band out there. I have never ever seen a group as syncopated and in-tune with each other as these three. If you don’t believe me, have a listen to my favourite song of their’s, ‘Physical Cities’.

This group is a composer’s dream. The trio, made up of Reid Anderson on bass, Ethan Iverson on piano and David King on drums are all well established and highly individualized composers, each contributing their own works to the large body of work that is The Bad Plus. Each song is uniquely different, painting completely different landscapes, or exploring distinctly different worlds of contemporary jazz.

The Bad Plus built their name and reputation by taking pop standards from rock, funk and other genres and reinterpreting them in the Bad Plus language. I find this strategy is a great introduction for newbies into the contemporary jazz scene, and TBP does it very well.

‘Prog’ has a good sampling of pop standards, but you’ll hear a larger component of the group’s original works. I find it a really good balance of education and exploration. Educating new listeners what is the Bad Plus sound through pop-standard extrapolation, and exploring their own creative prowess with their original compositions.

The balance between the piano, bass and drummer are brilliantly matched. There is not one track on this album where any one player is forced to be subdued. They each bring their unique flavour, but the combination of the three personas is what makes The Bad Plus so memorable.

Billboard magazine had this to say about ‘Prog’: “A gourmet 10-course meal of the sublime (a gorgeous take on Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”), the rowdy (a raucous ride through the original “Physical Cities”) and the eclectic (Iverson’s “Mint,” Rush’s “Tom Sawyer”). Easily the most likable and listenable jazz album of 2007.”

I first saw The Bad Plus live in concert in 04 or 05, when they opened for Joshua Redman at the Montreal International Jazz Festival. Back then I was struck mostly by the obtuseness of their effort. It was nothing like I’d ever heard before. Especially David King on the drums, who, during that performance used the skeleton of an umbrella, coat hangers, and other found objects to augment his drum kit. It was the most bizarre spectacle, but they managed to get a foothold in my memory. And that is something to be said, since they opened for Josh Redman during his Momentum album tour; arguably the best concert I’ve ever seen.

I next saw The Bad Plus live in May of 07, when they opened for Roy Hargrove in Toronto during his ‘Nothing Serious’ tour. The Bad Plus stole the show. For me they were stratas above Roy Hargrove that night. What impressed me most again was their tightness, their precision, their decisiveness. I was absolutely awe-struck witnessing ‘Physical Cities’ live.

I may have gone long with this review, but hopefully it will convey to you how extremely impressed I am with The Bad Plus. Check out their website here and hopefully you’ll get hooked on their music as I have. Given, they are not exactly new to the scene; they’ve been around since 2001, but they have a long and bright road ahead of them.

I for one will be with them every step of the way, anxiously expectant of the wondrous twists and turns that await.

Keeping an ear to the ground,

Kev.


Kev’s Music Review: Christian Scott ‘Anthem’

Posted: February 5th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Kev's Music Review | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

Greetings everyone,
I can’t remember the last time I did a music review, but it certainly has been a long time. Since going back to Canada for the holidays, I was able to pick up a number of new albums, so I’ll be reviewing them over the next week or so.

I was very excited to see that Christian Scott had come out with his second album, entitled Anthem, which followed up his Grammy-nominated debut album ‘Rewind That’ last year. I was not disappointed. Christian refines the trajectory he set in Rewind That, firmly establishing his identity, his ‘sound’, and his reputation as one of the profound leaders in the next generation of jazz.

Scott categorizes his music on MySpace as Nu-Jazz/Soul/Rock. It certainly has those components. Christian Scott himself plays very blues-infused contemporary jazz tones, while Matt Stevens keeps it rock-heavy on the guitar. Marcus Gilmore plays with a laid-back post-modern jazz tempo but with rock accents, and Aaron Parks is a chameleon on the keys but keeps a Soulful tone to lighten up the edginess of the other players.

Together this quartet (plus many other guests on certain tracks) play some really amazing music. I feel Christian Scott extends Miles Davis’ tradition with a very strong Modal feel, but meticulously fragmented, decomposed and reconstructed for the twenty-first century construct. The layering of identities and messages speaks to the modern-day experience. Taking direction from Davis’ ‘Cool’, Christian Scott’s compositions dig deep and dark, in an introspective sound that is sophisticatedly beautiful.

Christian Scott’s album title ‘Anthem’ and the album artwork that accompanies it leads hints to the listener that this second body of work is as much an ‘anthem’ for Christian Scott’s musical direction as it is a commentary and call to attention of what the artist sees as the state of America, and perhaps the world. The music is fitting for the album artwork that speaks of unmitigated urban crime and the struggle of innocence growing up in such an environment. As a son of New Orleans and a witness to hurricane Katrina, it is not difficult to see where Christian Scott’s perspective is coming from.

Anthem is an album I suspect I will continue to regularly enjoy for many years to come. The maturity Scott has already shown, and the amount of growth from the first to the second album are truly impressive. Its just downright an awesome piece of work, and as it was meant to be, speaks to you on a very personal level.
For more info on Christian Scott: www.christianscott.net OR www.myspace.com/christianscottmusic

Keeping an ear to the ground,

Kev.