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More Anita than Chet

To Love Again
To Love Again
By Chris Botti

Columbia Records: 2005

This review first appeared in Turbula in November 2005.

Presented as a sort of modern-day Chet Baker, trumpeter Chris Botti has the same Hollywood looks and so-cool attitude that made Baker a jazz hero in the late '50s. He's not quite the horn player Baker was, though – and is unlikely to have that James Dean vulnerability as a singer that Baker possessed.

So, instead, Botti lines up other singers for his new recording of standards – including Sting, Paula Cole, Gladys Knight and Steven Tyler. Producer Bobby Colomby has also surrounded Botti with some heavyweight jazz talent – drummer Peter Erskin, guitarist Anthony Wilson, bassist Robert Hurst. A lush string section tops off the production in true '60s fashion.

None of this, of course, makes Botti into Baker. He plays on this album much like Baker, with a low, muted tone that is the very essence of cool. It is all attractive and a nice listen – there's just no sense of anything new here, no real magic.

With one exception, the jazz and pop singers provide the best moments here – the mis-cast rock singers seem in over their heads. Michael Bublé's swinging version of "Let There Be Love" reminds of Bobby Darin. Young chanteuse (and Bublé protege) Renne Olmstead turns a nice interpretation of "Pennies from Heaven."

Sting's deep, expressive reading of "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life" picks up where his late '90s efforts with jazz impressario Kip Hanrahan left off; his is a remarkable jazz voice, one that Rod Stewart, Carly Simon and other rockers cum jazz singers should take note of.

But Paula Cole's performance on "My One and Only Love" seems forced, while R&B singer Jill Scott's "Good Morning Heartache" will make anyone who heard Johnny Adams' definitive version cringe at her Minnie Ripperton-styled little girl approach. Blue Nile frontman Paul Buchanan's "Are You Lonesome Tonight" is thin and watery, with no meat on it. And Brazilian singer Rosa Passos simply isn't up to the type of quiet strength necessary to carry "Here's That Rainy Day." Even Glady Knight doesn't seem at home in a jazz setting on "Lover Man."

Finally, Aerosmith front man Steven Tyler takes a stab at that overwrought warhorse "Smile" – and it's about as bad as it you'd think it might be.

The instrumental tracks – "Embraceable You," "What's New," "To Love Again" – are all strong; not necessarily jazz, but jazz-tinged mood music of a vein similar to Anita Baker's work of the mid- and late 1980s. Good, not great, music to lay down behind a crackling fire on a cold winter night.