fri 19/07/2024

Chilly Gonzales, BBCSO, Barbican Hall | reviews, news & interviews

Chilly Gonzales, BBCSO, Barbican Hall

Chilly Gonzales, BBCSO, Barbican Hall

Pianist, movie star, producer and huckster goes for glory

Chilly Gonzales: inventor of jazz chessMark Allan

Chilly Gonzales is a self-mythologising huckster, a throwback to a vaudevillian tradition of entertainer. He’s had enormous success producing the likes of Feist, is in the Guinness Book of Records for the longest solo piano concert (over 27 hours), and starred in the "existential sports movie" Ivory Tower as the inventor of “jazz chess”. 

His early albums were a crashed-up mélange of funk, electronic, rap and lounge, but his biggest success was a curveball of an album, Solo Piano (2004), a set of introverted Satie-influenced pieces. In a pop world where even playing keyboards two-handedly is not a prerequisite, he is an accomplished pianist with a flair for gorgeous melodies. He started off this show with pieces from the follow-up, Solo Piano 2, released earlier this year. As a pianist he hasn’t the technical mastery or originality of a Brad Mehldau or the rhythmic quality or sheer emotional warmth of his near-namesake Rueben Gonzalez, but then neither of those two crowd-surfed at their Barbican gigs.

After a few numbers, the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Jules Buckley (who says he likes nothing better than hearing an orchestra “monsterise a groove”) and Gonzales the entertainer came to the fore. One highlight was his Frankensteinish attempt to create a perfect pop song with the cellos doing the bassline from Queen's “Another One Bites The Dust” and the strings doing Michael Jackson’s "Billie Jean" with bits of Britney Spears's “Toxic” wihile Gonzales rapped on top.

His biggest plus is his likeability and ability to connect with an audience

He is also on something of an educational mission, amusingly illustrating the difference between major and minor chords by doing minor key versions of “Happy Birthday” and “Frère Jacques”, and brought a child up from the audience to give a quick lesson in improvisation (she played the black keys, then so did he, for example).

A few good ideas, including a Sakamoto-influenced passage and the odd enjoyable melody, were not enough to rescue the premiere of his rather turgid Piano Concerto, which probably seemed a good idea at the time, but which was the only dull moment of the evening. Things perked up with a wonderfully brash orchestral rap tune “Take Me To Broadway” and ended with his playing a solo piano piece with his head under the piano.

Wearing his trademark bathrobe and slippers for the gig, Gonzales (christened Jason Beck) was born in Canada and lives in Europe, and he has a North American drive and ambition. His biggest plus may be his likeability and ability to connect with an audience. He’s closer to Tim Minchin or Michael McIntyre than anything in the conventional pop, classical or jazz worlds, and I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if, like them, he ended up playing an arena in a year or two (a couple of years ago he was playing to 100 people in the Soho Theatre). Certainly the audience adored the show, with an immediate and almost universal standing ovation. His music may be essentially derivative, but he puts it together in unusual ways. Some of his melodies for piano are luscious, and every now and again his sheer ebullient joie de vivre propelled the evening into moments of gloriously deranged beauty.

Watch excerpt from documentary on Chilly Gonzales 



A self-mythologising huckster, a throwback to a vaudevillian tradition of entertainer


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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How dare you compare this man to Michael Macintyre !!? I was at the show. The man is a musical genius.

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