The Expansive Robi Botos Trio
Two articles from Live Music Report.
The main stage and the Toronto Jazz Festival as a whole had a strong opening with the Robi Botos Trio. How appropriate that the Festival headline some of its high-flying resident Jazz artists at the start of its 20th anniversary. The festival name has been updated to remove the reference to “Downtown” as befits this expanded and diversified event.
Robi along with brother Frank and bass player extraordinaire Attila Darvas provided an intense but balanced power trio opening. An illusion of a Jazz quartet was quickly created from the high register melodic doubling on bass while Attila maintained a firm bass line on his six-string electric bass.
Having introduced his background and noting with wry humour that Gypsies moved “not because they really like to travel”, Robi led us into his spellbinding tune “Place to Place” complete with exotic tones — including a dulcimer-like hand muting of the piano strings. And did I detect a 7/4 rhythm interspersed amidst the complex weave of themes? Robi registers a long list of influences from the ranks of the Jazz piano and drummer greats as well as the core and modern classical composers. Bartok would have wanted some of these riffs for his collection.
With a transitional tune featuring Robi on Rhodes piano and an infusion of orchestral colour, we made a seamless transition to Robi’s other, perhaps surprising musical home — funk. Gradually it emerged that we were to have the theme and changes from “Summertime”. Frank Botos incorporated neatly the funk snare that he found on the festival drum kit to lay down a solid groove over which Robi, straddling acoustic and Rhodes pianos, again created the illusion of a larger ensemble with rich musical textures. From somewhere, another found instrument — an orchestral triangle — emerged to mark accents. At all times the trio maintained close eye contact and we can only guess at the degree of instant invention that we were witnessing. Neatly done and with musical casualness and taste.
With a switch to acoustic bass and acoustic piano, we flipped to the Wayne Shorter classic, “Footprints”. Interestingly, the more recent explorations of Shorter into the harmonies of medieval and modern classical music has its parallel with Robi Botos’ love of altered scales and harmonies. This tune in 6/4 is a great fit for the trio with its open-ended potential for extended and polyrhythmic improvisation.
With the tight festival schedule, we had to settle for a final and lyrical reading of “What is This Thing Called Love” to provide a sweet tease of an ending to the set. There is no escaping that the Botos brothers have a special sense that enables them to detect each other’s next move. That bass player Darvas shares in this is evidence of a deep musical kinship. Local and new fans of the Trio will want to keep a watch for these musicians appearing in other festival events and with their various and regular ensembles.
Report by Dave Barnes | Photos by Roger Humber
A Journey of Jazz
The festival’s 20th anniversary celebration first Mainstage event 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 into a musical Romani (Gypsy) family in Nyiregyhaza, Hungary, 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.
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. Announcing the title of the first piece, “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”, featured some great hard bop style playing by all members of the trio. Attila Darvas played six string electric bass as if he were playing jazz guitar, strumming and fingering the strings in classical style. He produced full, large chords and runs in the high end of the bass with wonderfully intricate rhythms and traded solos with both Botos’ brothers. What a marvellous talent. Darvas is also outstanding on acoustic bass, as displayed in the trio’s interesting rendition of “Footprints.”
Frank Botos 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. Frank Botos is an exciting 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 CD was available at stage left. Molly Johnson was up next, a 15-minute break for the audience to grab a beer or a CD.
Report by Paul J. Youngman | Photos by Roger Humber from the website: Live Music Report . Used with permission.
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