Sunday, 23 February 2014

Review: Chris Botti - Slowing Down The World

1999 found Botti firmly climbing the ladder for the crown of the new king of chill. Having released two well-received and high-selling albums, written and recorded a deservedly lauded soundtrack to cult film ‘Caught’, as well as toured extensively around the globe, Botti settled down to produce an album that would unashamedly, as laid out crystal clearly in his liner notes, slow things down and create the perfect mood.

From the offset, the first track, the very radio friendly ‘Irresistible Bliss’, grooves along nicely with a moody sense of cool, but without becoming too ‘smooth’. Immediately too you can hear a better stronger sound to Botti’s work. The production is more rounded, fuller even, helping plump up the bass and enhancing the rhythm sound of the record. Also assisting on a number of tracks, is a strong orchestration, provided by none other than Anne Dudley, that helps add a richer sound to the proceedings – without ever sounding saccharine or over-powering the band.

Another thing to dawn on you is that whereas ‘First Wish’ had a distinct secondary voice in its keyboards, and ‘Midnight Without You’ featured the guitar in a secondary spotlight role, ‘Slowing Down The World’ has just one instrumental voice – the trumpet of Botti. And as ever, the tone of the instrument is gorgeous.

As before, Botti has a guest vocalist on one of the pieces, this time in the form of Sting, who adds a suitably world-wearied sounding vocal line to a suitably melancholic take on ‘In The Wee Small Hours’. A perfect pairing, Sting’s singing beautifully complements Botti’s wistful trumpet playing - the only let down being the slightly limp sounding backing keyboards.

It’s unfortunate then, that one thing ‘Slowing Down The World’ has in common with ‘Midnight Without You’ is having two vocals tracks – one very much worth its inclusion on the album, and one that should really have been left off entirely. Whereas the ‘Midnight Without You’ title track though was pure blandness, a cover of Randy Newmans ‘Same Girl’ is absolutely attrocious and sits completely out of place with the rest of the album. Why is it so bad? Unfortunately, although Chris Botti has easily the most beautiful and crisp trumpet voice, his singing voice leaves much to be desired. Straining weakly against some non-descript piano the song is simply a mistake and makes you wonder who thought this was a good idea.

Luckily, the next track ‘Where I’m Calling From’ instantly more than gets things back on the groove track, and the album ends on a good note too, in the form of the most orchestrated track on the album, ‘Letting Go’.

Interestingly, despite the more overt attempt at chill-out, Botti’s third album is perhaps the most jazz sounding, in both its arrangements and Botti’s own playing. And despite the more chilled direction, the album heads more toward jazz than the previously more pop-sounding first two records. The result is that both the slower moodier tracks and the more upbeat pieces all give the feeling of simultaneously being uplifting and chilled, despite being just a little more melancholic sounding than the earlier ‘First Wish’ or Midnight Without You’.

Ultimately, where the first two Botti solo efforts sounded very alike and in many ways were perhaps interchangeable, ‘Slowing Down The World’ attempts to and succeeds in sounding different – different whilst still maintaining the Botti elements. And with some elements working better than before, and others working much worse, it is personal preference in style that will determine which you deem the better of the albums.

Much better though was just around the corner. Botti would be enlisted to join Stings touring band for almost three full years. In the middle of this tour, he would be able to get just one ten week break. This would in turn provide the right stuff needed to produce his first great album – ‘Night Sessions’.


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