Robi Botos: Old Soul
A440 Entertainment

Some recordings more than others suggest the players involved really reveled in the session, the impression left of longtime friends truly digging the tunes the leader's given them to play. One such recording is the third release from pianist Robi Botos, a wide-ranging set featuring a crack team of high-level participants. If the playing sounds tight, there's a reason: following two nights of performances in Toronto and Montreal, the recording went down live at Montreal's Planet Studios on a single day with everyone recording together in a single room. Judging from the energized result, it's a template other artists would do well to follow.

On the date, Botos plays acoustic piano with synthesizers, melodica, percussion, and the Harpejji, and brought Seamus Blake (saxophones, EWI), Mike Downes (acoustic and electric basses), and Larnell Lewis (drums) aboard to form the core quartet and augmented them on the closer with guests Cory Henry (Hammond B3 organ), Ingrid Jensen (trumpet), and Lionel Loueke (guitar); two pieces also feature the Drew Jurecka String Quartet. As mentioned, it's a versatile set that features Botos and company tackling jazz-funk, gospel-tinged ballads, and covers, one a time-honoured standard and the other a rarely heard cut by His Purple Highness. All involved engage deeply with the material, resulting in a release that highly flatters the pianist.

Goosed by a smooth funk riff Greg Osby might have written, “Diamond” kicks things off on a high, Blake digging into its strutting theme with delight and the others locking in splendidly alongside. Lewis plays with the same dexterity he brought to his recent date with Downes, the bassist's Root Structure, on which Botos also played. The pianist serves up a swinging solo to shift the material into blues-jazz territory before Blake brings it home with a soaring spot of his own.

Even if the string quartet's intro to “Budapest” makes the transition from “Diamond” feel like a bit of a non sequitur, the ballad itself is a romantic thing of beauty that oozes no small degree of Quartet West-like allure, especially when Blake and Downes seem to be channeling Ernie Watts and Charlie Haden in their playing. “Praise” also finds the outfit in ballad mode, this one a stirring, gospel-flavoured piece buoyed by the album's loveliest melodic progressions and chord changes, while the Mancini/Mercer chestnut “Days of Wine and Roses” receives an affectionate jazz trio reading. A number of genres commingle in the ambitious title cut, from R&B and funk to European folk, and in addition to a Zawinul-like synthesizer episode and rapturous coda rollicking piano, sax, and drum solos keep the interest level up.

Throughout the set, Botos shows himself to be a multi-dimensional player, not just in the stylistic range of the recording but in his persona as a musician. There's plenty of fine piano on offer, but his adventurous synthesizer and Harpejji playing also adds considerably to the release. A video's online that shows the group performing Prince's raucous “Calhoun Square,” and the sheer joy on their faces as they cover its monstrous funk is obvious. Were video footage available that showed them recording the album's other tracks I'm guessing a similar kind of joy would be evident there, too.

March 2018