The festivals 20th anniversary celebration commenced with 27-year-old jazz piano phenom Robi Botos. Botos was joined on stage by his brother Frank on drums and Attila Darvas playing bass. Robi Botos was the winner of the prestigious 2004 Montreux Jazz Festival solo piano competition.
Botos, who was born in Nyiregyhaza-Hungary into a musical Romani (Gypsy) family, immigrated to Canada in 1998. Shortly after arriving in Toronto, he produced a CD, The Botos Brothers with Brothers Frank playing drums and Louie playing bass. The CD features some very special guests, Pat Labarbera, Don Thompson and Attila Darvas.
The trio opened the show to a full house or at least a standing room only tent. There was a large crowd at the back of the tent, in open air and with a free listen. The main stage performances are ticketed events held inside a large tent, the acoustics are adequate, the sound system is impressive. The audio is sustainable for approximately a half-mile radius, so the folks outside the tent hear some great music for free.
Robi Botos took the first eight bars of the opening number to introduce himself; he ran the keyboard in every direction with fluidity and creative improvisation. He has a percussive style, choppy with a funk flavour, accentuating the runs with full sounding chords and displaying a wide range of emotions in every note he plays. The song title "Place To Place" Botos said, "This song is all about Gypsy travels and not because they love to travel."
The next tune "Long Time Till We Meet" had some great hard bop style playing, by all members of the trio. Attila Darvas utilizing a six string electric bass and playing as an accomplished jazz guitarist, strumming and fingering the strings in the classical style. Full sounding large chords and runs in the high end of the bass with wonderfully intricate rhythms flowing, trading solos with both Botos’, a marvellous talent. Darvas is also outstanding on acoustic bass, as displayed on the interesting rendition of the trio’s performance of "Footprints."
Frank Botos has a great drumming style, he is a heavy drummer who is perfect for a trio filling in the spaces and creating a full sound. He did an impressive job on Wayne Shorter’s "Footprints" the fourth song in the set. At times I am reminded of a Billy Cobham style of drummer, where the rolls that should end just keep going, they take your breath away as the fill is forced to fit in the time signature. An exiting drummer who always performs with a giant’s heart, displaying equal parts of joy, energy and creativity.
The final tune of the set was a number that had both brothers in a playful percussive battle; Frank Botos was rhythmically copying Robi Botos who was playing intricate patterns. The song ended with the crowd wanting more, the Robi Botos Trio had performed for an hour. The Botos Brothers C.D was available at stage left. You can order the CD at the Robi Botos website as well www.robibotos.com. Molly Johnson was up next, a 15-minute break for the audience to grab a beer or a CD.
Molly Johnson was introduced and arrived in style; she looked very fit, fashion conscious and as beautiful as ever. Johnson was joined on stage by her regular quartet of Colleen Allen, soprano, alto, tenor saxophone, clarinet and flute, as Johnson said, "Playing everything." Andrew Craig, piano and keyboards. Mike Downes, acoustic bass and Mark Mclean drums and percussion. There were special guest artists as well, Greg Ross, guitar, Rob Piltch, guitar and Guido Basso, flugelhorn and trumpet.
Molly Johnson is an enchantress; she can work an audience in the fashion of the greats, like Ella, Pearl, Abby, Dinah and Billy. At times, her brash attitude can even lend itself to the defiant style of Nina Simone. Molly Johnson seduces her fans, loving them slowly, teasingly and with ultimate pleasure, making sure to leave them wanting more, a highly coveted skill that all the great lovers possess.
Johnson sings in a very relaxed fashion, she has a smoky, distinct voice that is somewhere in between the raw adrenalin pumping power of blues rock legend Janis Joplin and the instrumental tone of a young Billy Holiday. There were moments during the concert where she reached down into some reserve and boosted the energy level to one that I have never witnessed before. I have seen Johnson perform on numerous occasions, this was a special night. Her trading off of lines with horn player extraordinaire, Guido Basso during "Fool To Fall In Love" was exhilarating. Basso has a full rich tone that matches Johnson’ vocal range perfectly.
Johnson and her band performed 10 songs from the new CD, Let’s Waste Some Time, due out soon on the Verve/ Universal label. The first two songs that the band played were co-composed with Greg Ross, guitarist with the Lenny Kravitz band. They were well written numbers "Messing Around" and "Here With You." The sound mix took the first three numbers to get it together, harmonies were not working for me and instrument levels were being adjusted on the fly. A sound check during the 15-minute break might be an idea. Ross departed after these first two songs and Guido Basso arrived to a huge round of applause. Other songs from the new CD are "If You Know Love," "Once Upon A Time," "Tonight," "Tangerine," which had a hip Caribbean flavour to this tune, with nice percussion by Mclean.
Mark Mclean is one of the most skillful musical drummers in support of a vocalist. His superb style may be heard backing vocalist Peter Cincotti and Andy Bey. He can play brushes to swing or to add tasteful effect that compliments the sultry mood that Johnson so wonderfully exudes. He is always one step ahead when improvisation is called for, his drumming is sharp, sensitive and supportive of where other players are going as so wonderfully displayed on the award winning Red Dragonfly CD by Jane Bunnett, Released in 2004 on Blue Note Records.
Two outstanding tunes with hit written all over them, "My Oh My" and "Diamond In My Hand" from the self-titled Molly Johnson CD released in 2001 by Marquis Records were performed to the delight of the audience. Rob Piltch was a guest artist on the first CD and his playing at this evening’s performance is splendid. Piltch is a minimalist, in a two bar solo he can say more than some guitarist’s do in a lifetime. A jazz guitar player who is mesmerizing in his tonal clarity with chord structure that is simply brilliant.
On the song "Sticks and Stones" Basso on trumpet and Allen on tenor sax played some magnificent solos. Andrew Craig played an organ solo that was really swinging. Craig would switch to electronic keyboard and piano through out the show. This is a tight rhythm section with Mike Downes firmly in control. Downes is the backbone that keeps it all together and lays the foundation that the other players can perform upon.
The Molly Johnson big band played an exiting set that was close to two hours long with one rip-roaring encore number. The finale was a song I did not recognize, it may have been one of the new songs, it sounded incredible, like a big band blowing to win the battle.
I see great things for Molly Johnson and the benefactors will be her loving and loved fans.Review by Paul J. Youngman KJA - Jazz Advocate