The Hungarian-born, Canadian pianist, Robi Botos won the 2004 edition of what is now called the Parmigiani Montreux Jazz Piano Competition and, we know that the rest is history, a fact that might easily have dated the now 40-something, prodigiously gifted multi-instrumentalist. However, focussing his virtuosity on the piano has retained all of the fire and brimstone of a funkified youth, melding it in with a mature lived-in character often hinted at by the languid ease with one melodic variation following the other, here, on the so aptly-entitled album, Old Soul. This probably speaks of the Romani in Mr. Botos, whose musicianship is informed by an unusually large musical brain, even larger ears and an out-sized heart; truly a rare combination.
All of this is brilliantly caught in this recording. Here Mr. Botos has written wonderfully and he embraces each impeccable melody with extraordinary pianistic skill, followed up with arrangements that reflect his extraordinary sense of orchestral harmony. The song “Diamond”, he tells us is named in memory of a dear friend with a larger-than-life personality. In the hands of the pianist, the piece that follows becomes a white-hot volcano of intense expression; and while it does present formidable technical challenges, all of these are surmounted almost with nonchalance, the pianist’s focus resolutely serving not only the narrative, but in the ensuing choruses re-creating that larger-than-life character we may have read about in the booklet notes.
The magnificence does not end there. Mr. Botos puts other refined performances on tap: an articulate and atmospheric “Budapest”, a cautious, but polished “Days of Wine and Roses”. But even before that he cultivates a beautiful, poetic tone with an orchestral touch on “Old Soul”. Both “Praise” and “Hope” resemble the soaring spirituality of the music ministry of a Holiness Church and “Calhoun Square” is funky and percussive in an unusual tribute to Prince, which shows immaculate poise and thoughtfulness. None of this is really a surprise coming from a genius so much larger-than-life himself. He has the spirit of an Oscar Peterson and the self-effacing harmonic quietude of a Bill Evans, all rolled into a singular voice informed by delicate phrasing, a colourful touch and well thought-out ideas.
To shine amid such stellar company is no mean achievement either. Featuring the great organist Cory Henry, trumpeting sensation Ingrid Jensen, the musical wizard, Lionel Loueke on guitar, together with the ingenious powerhouse drummer, Larnell Lewis, sublime bassist Mike Downes and the hugely commanding Seamus Blake on saxophones and EWI and the members of the Drew Jurecka String Quartet who play with the delicate rustle of expensive raw silk – all musicians completely attuned to the leader’s vision and artistry. The result is an exhilarating extrovert and effortlessly virtuosic recording captured in recorded sound that is radiant, clear and detailed. An album to die for…
Track list – 1: Diamond; 2: Budapest; 3: Old Soul; 4: Praise; 5: Hope; 6: Days of Wine and Roses; 7: Calhoun Square; 8: End of an Era (Bonus Track); 9: A Time to Love (Bonus Track)
Personnel – Robi Botos: piano, keyboards, Harpejji, melodica and percussion; Seamus Blake: saxophones and EWI; Mike Downes: contrabass and electric bass; Larnell Lewis: Drums; Cory Henry: Hammond B3 organ (7); Ingrid Jensen: trumpet (7); Lionel Loueke: guitar (7); Drew Jurecka String Quartet – Drew Jurecka: 1st violin; Rebekah Wolkstein: 2md violin; Shannon Knights: viola; Lydia Munchinsky: cello
Released – 2018
Label – A440 Music
Runtime – 54:21