By Jim Sullivan / Contributing writer, Cape Cod Times
HYANNIS — No musician wears quite as many hats — and wears them so well — as does the nattily attired jazz man Chris Botti. He is, at the least, a triple-threat: trumpeter, entertainer/raconteur and bandleader.
Let’s consider the last, first. “My job as bandleader,” said the 55-year-old Botti, early in his set at the Cape Cod Melody Tent Saturday, “is to put together a Rubik’s Cube of all-star musicians.”
He’s done this for years and he’s doing again on this summer’s tour. It’s his name on the marquee, but with his six musicians and three guest singers he’s comprised a band of equals. And what Botti relishes most is sharing the spotlight, having musical conversations with his players, sparking off drummer Lee Pearson, violinist Caroline Campbell or pianist Elgar Djangirov.
In doing so, the 2½-hour concert went every which way, starting sentimental, slow and gentle, with “Gabriel’s Oboe” and “Theme from ’Cinema Paradiso” and then moving forward into a massive explosion with “You Don’t Know What Love Is.” Botti introduced it as a jazz standard, but promised Pearson, who he treated to a big beer cup full of red wine, would soon “drive it over a cliff.” Which the smiling drummer did, shedding his jacket, flinging his sticks into the crowd, performing like a syncopated octopus and drawing a standing O.
Botti is a master of cool, a dapper disciple of Miles Davis and shares his idol’s love of melancholic trumpet runs. He and his band sublimely played Davis’ “Blue & Green,” Botti describing the song’s genius as one of “mood being more important than lyric or melody.” Botti may take musical cues from Davis, but if Miles evinced diffidence or disdain on stage, Botti shines with munificence and charm.
Campbell, who also frequently plays classical music with Andrea Bocelli, did a gorgeous duet with Botti on “Emmanuel” and later took a star turn during Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” (incorporating the Beatles “Yesterday,” “Yankee Doodle” and a country hoedown).
Djangirov had a masterful solo during a classical/jazz fusion piece, “Variations on Bach’s Prelude in C# Major.”
Botti didn’t bring out a vocalist until near the end of the first set, that being Sy Smith who belted out “The Very Thought of You.” Veronica Swift did “Embraceable You” and Jonathan Johnson sang the operatic “Time to Say Goodbye.”
Smith returned near the night’s end leading all through a romp of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” with Botti plucking two enthusiastic 9-year-old girls, Hyannis’s Angelina Lessa and Centerville’s Raelyn Vincent, from the crowd to go up on stage and dance. (After the show, they got to meet him and take photos.)
It was a night of spirited music, racing across multiple genres, and witty chat. Botti once again called the Melody Tent “one of our favorite venues in the world to play,” and, while veteran concertgoers may smile and hear that compliment as business-as-usual baloney, I get the sense Botti means it, digging the intimacy this theater-in-the-round experience gives.
Naples Daily News
Harriet Howard Heithaus, firstname.lastname@example.org; 239-213-6091
If Chris Botti’s full 10-second note holds, his impeccable riffs and repertoire from Herbie Hancock to Harold Arlen aren’t enough, how does a coterie of three singers sound?
Or would you prefer a Brazilian guitar virtuoso who’s on Botti’s latest disc with that? How about a violinist who can dance across the stage while she tucks phrases from Rimsky-Korsakov and Paganini into her jazz solo. And she’s playing all that on a 1735 Guarneri from the Chicago Stradivarius Society.
Botti brought an entourage that could snap, crackle and pop to his sold-out house at Artis—Naples on Monday, eliminating any risk of people — or himself — getting lip fatigue. He was a presence on nearly every piece except Sandy Cameron’s agile violin pastiche, and was as willing to jump in quietly with the right note as to craft an aching solo on “You Don’t Know What Love Is.”
Abbreviations of recorded works, such as on his “Impressions” disc, opened the show, and right out of the box Botti brought in fellow performers like Cameron get things sizzling and Brazilian guitar star Leonardo Amuedo to metamorphose into a romantic mood.
He pulled from his bag of classic Botti booty: “Emanuel,” “When I Fall in Love,” “For All We Know,” “Venice” and “The Look of Love,” personifying that citrus-clean tone he’s known for, even in the thorniest of runs. But Botti yielded the floor for audience warmers such as Sy Smith’s vaulting performance of “Let’s Stay Together.” Al Green would have been proud.
Botti is a master in timing, mood and style, as his discs show, and his performance was just as impeccably timed. After a sweet rendition of the Carpenters’ “For All We Know” that had him wandering among the audience, he brought out young jazz chanteuse Veronica Swift to scat in vocal somersaults on “There Will Never Be Another You.” Swift then applied her silky Ella Fitzgerald vibe to “Embraceable You.”
Botti rarely left the stage, punctuating others’ solos without overwhelming them, the mark of a pro. This pro has had practice, of course, backing up singers from Natalie Cole to Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon and Sting. He understands the critical need for appropriate dynamics and applied it to every song Monday.
Nor did he skimp on talent. Amuedo, who’s a headliner in his own country, created acoustic warmth but also popped out for a stinging electric guitar solo. And Botti should follow Geoffrey Keezer, his current pianist, to the ends of the Earth. Keezer, an alum of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, can filagree nearly any standard in a way that gives it new allure and pull riffs from gospel to classical at the right time, right virtuosity, right everything.
Botti has similarly skilled colleagues in drummer Lee Pearson, double bassist Richie Goods and his synthesizer performer, whose name wasn’t audible.
For those of us brought up in smoky lounges where the microphone was only for a vocalist, the electronically augmented concert-hall style of show takes some getting used to. Yet it didn’t diminish the impressive playing here. Even the enhancement on Cameron’s electric solo gave it the ability to surround the audience.
Cameron, like the others, is a star in her own right. She has toured with Valery Gergiev and the Kirov Orchestra, played the Verbier and White Nights festivals in Switzerland and Russia, is on the soundtrack of “Fifty Shades of Grey” and soloed for Cirque de Soleil’s “IRIS.”
Our only complaint about the concert was — even though the group played nearly two solid hours without intermission — that it wasn’t long enough. We would have loved to have heard more from operatic tenor Chad Johnson, who delivered a shortened verson of “Con Te Partiro (Time to Say Goodbye)” and then disappeared. It was mini-devastation, after expecting warmed-over Andrea Bocelli in the version and getting a strong, singular voice we would like to have heard again. Find something popera — “Nessun Dorma,” perhaps — to give him a little more time onstage.
It was two hours over too fast. It could have been a little less speedy had some of the audience not begun to decamp during the first encore. Is your house on fire?
Botti did return for a second closer, “The Nearness of You,” but a more attentive audience might have won one more song before the 10 p.m. witching hour.