A howling success – kind of…a music review by Fraser Beath McEwing

July 3, 2015 by Fraser Beath McEwing
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Chris Botti, one of the world’s finest jazz trumpeters, surrounded himself on the stage of the Sydney Opera House with the SSO and seven soloists to present a concert that I both loathed and loved.Let’s get the loathing out of the way first. In a word: amplification.

Chris Botti

Chris Botti

Botti’s trumpet had a tiny black microphone staring into its innards; Caroline Smith had her fiddle hooked up to the mixing board; Ben Butler’s guitars and Richie Goods basses were brought forth via monster loudspeakers. Even the Model D Steinway grand, superbly played by Geoffrey Keezer, was deemed in need of extra grunt. And back behind the soloists, partly partitioned off by a transparent wall, and often bathed in queer light, the SSO sat relegated to a hum-along support role. But even they were festooned with microphones so they could join the infantry to batter the audience with sound. The result was often so voluminous and so cacophonous that it had the indiscretion of a thunderstorm.

Having been brought up to love the sounds produced by man-crafted instruments and their unaided players, I found this concert clouded by gazillions of watts.

However, having said all that nasty stuff, I admit to being in a very small minority. The Opera House audience generally loved the assault. They whooped, finger snapped, waved in unison and gave a standing ovation at the end, while grumpy old Fraser sat in his seat. Botti well understands what his audiences like, especially in a hybrid concert that straddles jazz, Hollywood schmaltz and raging pop. The atmosphere was further enhanced by curtaining off the opera house choir seats, letting the creative lighting man have his head and pumping cascades of nightclub fake smoke down onto the stage.

Botti chatted amiably to the audience throughout the concert, introducing members of his band, the SSO and its conductor Nicholas Buc. A New Yorker with an Italian father, Botti is the consummate charming American host, noting this was not his first trip to ‘wonderful Sydney’.

The solo musicians were all outstanding exponents of their instruments. Although Botti’s commanding trumpet often loudly intervened in somebody else’s solo, there was some astonishing individual playing. Remembering that Botti was the main attraction, he generously gave his soloists plenty of opportunities to strut their stuff.

The slim Caroline Campbell, blond tresses flying, went nuts with a brief, almost-impossible show of virtuosity on her violin; Geoffrey Keezer demonstrated a mountainous piano technique with great depth of jazz complexity, while Richie Goods took the usually keel-laying bass into a new melodic realm.

Fraser Beath McEwing

Fraser Beath McEwing

But for me, the standout was the drum solo by Lee Pearson. I’d seen quite a few in my band playing days but nothing compared to this. It is worth the price of a ticket just to see and hear Pearson go at it. Not only was his drumming superlative, but he worked comedy into his performance. He managed to take off his jacket, towel off his face, play blindfolded, play with one drumstick while he balanced the other on his head – all without missing a beat.

The songs held no surprises. This was probably standard fare for Botti and its familiarity pleased the audience. He finished by sending the other musicians off for an early drink and finally, with only himself and pianist Keezer on stage, played “My Funny Valentine”. Rendered by Miles Davis, that song decided the then twelve-year-old Botti to devote his career to jazz trumpet.

Fraser Beath McEwing is an accomplished pianist and commentator on classical music performance and is a founding member of The theme & Variations Foundation Advisory Board which provides assistance to talented young Australian pianists. His professional background is in journalism, editing and publishing. He is also the author of three novels.He is a Governor of the Sir Moses Montefiore Home.


2 Responses to “A howling success – kind of…a music review by Fraser Beath McEwing”
  1. Allan Meadows says:

    Wonderful to catch up with you in your world of music & writing Fraser
    Best regards ………Allan .

  2. David Lee says:

    Brisbane, 4th July, same problems and same comments minus the orchestra.

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