Review Summary: If you can't afford a trip to Italy, this may be the next best thing.
The muted trumpet is perhaps the most pleasing sound in all of music. It flutters, it whispers, it gives a soft, satisfied moan. It is the quietly confident, alluring woman at the bar in a 50s movie. When done right, the muted trumpet transports the listener to a faraway land, where one forgets he is wearing headphones, walking through a rainy New York night. At it’s best, Chris Botti’s Italia does just this, taking his listener to, yes, Italy.
Yet the muted trumpet, indeed all of smooth jazz, treads on a thin line between nuanced and maudlin. And if Italia was a sophisticated ten dollar auditory ticket to Italy, my rating for this album would be a five, without a question. On songs such as “Deborah’s Theme” and “Ave Maria,” Chris Botti does achieve such subtle perfection. On such songs, I can envision a cool summer night in Rome, with the gentle guitar playing; I feel the passionate strings traversing along the Mediterranean coast. All the while Botti’s tender trumpet conducts.
However, this is not the case throughout the entire album. According to last.fm, Chris Botti uses the same trumpet model as Miles Davis; naturally I could not help but compare them. Chris Botti has the tone down, his trumpet is as sweet and seductive as can be. But he takes all swing, all rhythm out of jazz. The drums (and most of the band) border on inconsequential, as each song focuses on his perfected trumpet sound. It is noteworthy that no other instrument solos on the CD-"Estaté" is a notable exception. Botti lingers on every note, as if he is reflecting on his life past and present. For the most part this isn't a problem, the strings and guitar complement him well. And of course Botti is an immensely talented trumpeter. But he is strongest on slow paced songs. Bill Evans was often accused of lacking swing in his music. Compared to Chris Botti, the most sentimental Bill Evans song would be cause to race to the dance floor.
Luckily for us, Botti recognizes that his strengths lie in slower, more contemplative numbers, and we are spared from most attempts at hotter jazz. “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” and “The Way You Look Tonight” come off as tacky, almost childish amongst the slower songs. But on those slower songs, Botti steals the spotlight. Even on “Italia,” guest singer Andrea Bocelli-by no means a light weight-appears as a backdrop for the masterful Chris Botti.
Botti’s muted trumpet creates a mood that is inexplicably Italian. Maybe it has something to do with that immaculate suit he wears on the cover. Maybe it’s the subtle, but important use of acoustic guitar. But through Italia, Chris Botti takes his listener to an Italy that is beautiful, ruminative and moving.
Recommended Tracks: Deborah’s Theme, Italia, Ave Maria