Chris Botti brings trumpet, winning repertoire to Orchestra Hall
Trumpeter Chris Botti, who performed Friday night at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, has become an annual visitor to the Nicollet Mall concert venue. As usual, most of the hall’s seats were occupied, since the constantly touring Botti knows how to please audiences and keep them coming back for more.
The Grammy winner began his career as a jazz musician, but expanding his musical repertoire to embrace pop and rock has made Botti one of the top-selling instrumentalists ever; he’s sold more than 4 million CDs.
Earlier in his career, Botti did separate tours as a sideman backing two of the most successful pop artists of modern times: Paul Simon and Sting. Doing so gave Botti exposure to audiences beyond the somewhat limited jazz category, and he must have picked up some pointers on how to engage an audience and create a sense of intimacy, even in a large, rock-scale venue.
With CD and concert-ticket sales like his, Botti can afford to hire top-shelf musicians and singers, and that is what he does.
One of the most dramatic pieces of the 90-minute performance was Botti’s crystalline rendition of Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez,” which the late Miles Davis introduced to jazz fans on his “Sketches of Spain” album. He followed that with one of his own ballad hits, which some of the avid Botti fans in the audience recognized after just a couple of notes.
Then Botti quickly switched gears, blowing brassy midrange riffs over an electric funk tune designed to showcase the group’s powerhouse drummer, Lee Pearson.
Botti the ballad specialist reprised a couple of jazz standards, “When I Fall In Love” and the moody “You Don’t Know What Love Is.” The group used the latter piece as a launching pad for an uptempo instrumental workout with Pearson, bassist Richie Goods, Botti and pianist Taylor Eigsti alternating high-flying solos at a breakneck pace.
Botti also honored the recently departed singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, spotlighting guitarist Ben Butler on an instrumental version of Cohen’s signature piece, “Hallelujah.”
Another instrumental virtuoso touring with the group is violinist Corline Campbell, who earned a standing ovation with a briskly played solo classical piece.
Botti’s traveling troupe also includes a couple of show-stopping vocal talents. One of them is dazzling R&B singer Sy Smith, who was part of “The Tonight Show” band during Jay Leno’s tenure. Smith raised the roof with a soaring version of “The Very Thought of You,” showing off her stunning vocal range, at times vocally resembling the singer Randy Crawford.
Then she and Botti traded stratospheric high notes on a rendition of “The Look of Love,” a tune featured on Botti’s Grammy-winning “live” DVD.
Several years ago Botti paid homage to his Italian roots with an album called “Italia,” co-writing the title track with the great operatic tenor Andrea Bocelli and performing it with him in Italy. Near the end of Friday night’s concert, Botti brought out a lesser-known but also impressive opera singer named Rafael Moras to reprise the dramatic piece.
Dan Emerson is a freelance writer and musician in Minneapolis.