Review: Signature Jazz Cruise in the Med

Don Albert has a whale of a time on the new Jazz Cruise from Monte Carlo, with Randy Brecker, Anat Cohen and last-minute substitute Chris Botti

The Signature Jazz Cruise on the Seabourn, which sailed out of Monte Carlo and ended 10 days later in Barcelona, calling at nine different destinations along the way, was a brilliant idea.

This was despite the fact that the headline act Diana Krall couldn’t make it due to health problems, which caused pandemonium in the offices of the Entertainment Cruise Productions who at the last minute managed to replace her with Chris Botti.

The high standard of jazz was supplied by the trio of Shelly Berg, an enthusiastic and animated pianist who is able to play long boppish lines or stride; he swings and is a superb accompanist. John Clayton’s bass playing was faultless and his arco version of Emily was sublime. Jeff Hamilton must surely be one of the finest drummers on the scene today. His taste is impeccable with inventive fills, subtle driving swing and sometimes Shelly Manne mannerisms. He is a joy to behold.

Wycliffe Gordon keeps on adding little nuances to his playing. Just when you think he’s said it all, he comes up with something different. He is able to tailgate it or play so sweet and soft it's heart-rending. His singing moves from Satch-inspired to excellent scatting. Anat Cohen is truly an inspired clarinetist, combining swing and traces of world music with a legitimate sound or growling and trilling, always looking for something different. When she and Gordon play together there’s an empathy that is almost tangible.

The duet of Randy Brecker and Shelly Berg blew the cobwebs out of the standards. Brecker seemed relaxed and enjoying himself while Berg supplied a one-man orchestra behind him. It was timeless music to savour.

Singer/pianist John Proulx (pronounced "proo") reminds me of a sophisticated New York piano-bar singer. He was perfect for the cruise and turned the listeners into fans. His interpretations of the Great American Songbook from Deed I Do, That’s All to You’re Driving Me Crazy and That Old Feeling were done with class and feeling. He knows when to put in a little scatting, which he does very well, and sometimes scats in unison with a bop piano line.

Chris Botti is a really good player and has built a strong and very professional semi-commercial series of acts that has gained him Grammys and other awards. On piano he had Geoff Keezer, plus bass, guitar and drums, a male and female singer and a violinist. It was entertaining and precise, but most of the excitement came from drummer Billy Kilson.

The food and service were exemplary.

Being the first cruise of its kind in the Mediterranean, there were a few hiccups along the way. I would have liked to be at sea more during the day rather than waking up to a new place every day. The people on the ship were more discerning than expected and some did not enjoy Botti, saying “It’s not our kind of jazz.”
I’m sure by the next cruise everything will be sorted out. Did I enjoy it? I was in my element.

Photo: Karrin Allyson, John Clayton, Wycliffe Gordon, Anat Cohen and Randy Brecker on the Signature Jazz Cruise, pictured by Don Albert.

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