Sunday, 23 February 2014

Review: Chris Botti - First Wish

Released in 1995, without knowing the date, if you were to take a guess, it would be fairly safe to say that you would most likely guess the recording date of Chris Bottis ‘First Wish’ to within two years.

Placed firmly in the ‘chill-out’ genre, ‘First Wish’ predominantly features the rolling flat drums that strongly formed the rhythm track of numerous dance and acid jazz records throughout the early and mid-nineties. Occasionally these can become repetitive, almost soley forming a steady rhythm for the rest of the band to perform against. Surprisingly then these drums are provided by both Jerry Marotta and Steve Ferrone, acclaimed rockers who usually provide a more individual and stand-out sound – and indeed on a few tracks the dance drums are thankfully replaced by something more funky and soulful.

Drums aside, the keyboards present are just right - sparing but used to excellent effect, helping add real depth to the mix, and providing, along with Botti’s trumpet, several emotive crescendo high moments. ‘Cubism’ and ‘Like I Do Now’ also superbly keep things fresh, with the addition of Michael Breckers guest tenor saxophone and Edie Bricknells honeyed and well-suited vocals respectively. This though is Botti’s record and his is clearly the lead voice - and what a voice. His trumpet has a bright, clear and beautiful tone, and Botti’s playing is strong and emotive throughout, showcasing a good range of wistful romanticism to groovable funk.

And in truth it is Botti’s playing that definitely lifts this out of, and above, the genre known as ‘chill’. Whereas most playing in this area is strictly smooth, and mild to the extreme (Kenny G, Rick Braun) Botti injects a real passion and sensuality into his playing. Certainly the music is good to chill and relax to, but it is most definitely a rung above other music that would be tagged with these categorisations.

Listening to this release many would be drawn to asking “is it jazz?” In truth ‘First Wish’ is not jazz, tenuously it could be placed in the smooth jazz or jazz-chill genres, but Botti here has tried more to create a smooth chill pop-jazz record, albeit one with more emotional resonance. And in large part he succeeds. Whereas most chill music is simply used to provide mellow background noise, the music contained herein breaks out of the mold and showcases an at times exemplary band. Granted, the majority of the tunes here can still be used to soundtrack a funky art gallery or playout an upmarket cocktail party, but it aims to be more and it succeeds.

A good debut, it serves well to highlight its star and the beautiful soulful sound he can coax from his trumpet. Ultimately Botti would later go on to make much better and stronger recordings, which would have much stronger direction – the night-time cool of ‘Night Sessions’ and the romantic high of ‘Italia’ being particular high-points. ‘First Wish’ however showcases a great talent, a name that in 1995 would have been one to watch, and with the passing in time would have greatly rewarded any early followers. If only someone had done something about those drums…


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