CHRIS BOTTI OVERWHELMS DEVOS HALL AUDIENCE WITH HIGH-ENERGY SHOW
THE GRAND RAPIDS PRESS
By Rachael Recker
Chris Botti quickly raised an index finger above his trumpet, pointed it Thursday evening at the DeVos Performance Hall audience and immediately silenced a prematurely clapping attendee.
The 47-year-old jazz musician, two-time Grammy winner and old-school entertainer didn’t want the zealous listener to miss the most entrancing moment of “The Very Thought of You,” as “bad boy of jazz” guitarist Mark Whitfield closed out the Nat King Cole tune in a smartly intricate, borderline-inaudible decrescendo.But that’s the control Botti has over his audience.
After innumerable standing ovations, it was clear the half-full DeVos Hall crowd appreciated the control he had over his round-, smooth- and clear-sounding instrument and the control also harnessed by his five-member band and two guests.
At 7:37, an announcer welcomed Botti to the darkened stage “without further ado.” Botti immediately ambled onto the stage with 2009 Guggenheim- and two-time-Grammy-winning (and eight-time-nominated) pianist Billy Childs and keyboardist Andy Ezrin.
A subdued piano and keys provided the backdrop to Botti’s particularly slow-tempoed, satisfying rendition of “Ave Maria.” Eventually the rest of the band — bassist Michael Valerio, drummer Billy Kilson and Whitfield — filtered on stage to beef up the song as Botti assured the crowd of the evening’s ensuing high-caliber musicianship with a minute-long note hold.
Botti’s note was so long the audience found time to clap twice and even laugh in astonishment. It was just the beginning.
Botti, who has made a career by slowing down jazz and focusing on the melody and emotion he can emit from a beautifully toned trumpet, further proved his jazz prowess by letting things get a little raw and up-tempo with the evening’s second number, “When I Fall In Love.”
What began lightly with Botti using his hand as a mute turned into a more intense building of noise, with Kilson’s drums clattering and symbols crashing.
“Here we go,” Botti shouted as he listened to Childs lead the third song. Childs immediately displayed why he’s just better: Dynamic and powerful, he impressed with an up-tempo, turbulent ending.
“After a piano solo like that, there’s nothing else to say, Grand Rapids, than ‘Goodnight,'” said Botti, who addressed the crowd for the first time.
Botti made easy conversation with the audience throughout the evening as he chatted about being a college dropout and a relentless touring artist, performing 300 days a year. He also admitted to being anti-Twitter and Facebook and expressed his dismay that few children today pursue music.
But it was the music, not the chatting, that kept the evening’s energy high, yet relaxed.
Botti demonstrated the beauty of notes slowly emerging from silence in “Caruso.” Both he, Whitfield and Ezrin provided one of the highlights of the night with their bare-bones rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”
Guest violinist Caroline Campbell shared one of the evening’s most mesmerizing moments when she and Botti harmonized in a duet at the end of “Emmanuel,” off of his “Chris Botti in Boston” DVD/CD.
Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Lisa Fischer, who is touring with The Rolling Stones, stopped by for three songs — including Cole’s “The Very Thought of You” and Burt Bacharach’s “The Look of Love” — and proved stage presence is equally as important as vocals.
But it was Kilson who stole the latter part of the show with a multi-groove drum solo that had jaws dropping all over DeVos Hall.
“I needed a drummer who would piss Sting off,” said Botti, who used to open for the artist.
Kilson held the show until Botti ended it as he typically does on tour — in the audience, unplugged, playing … well, I don’t remember.
The thing is, Botti didn’t get too far into his encore from the third row before noticing the reporter’s notepad on my lap from my seat in the fourth row.
“What are you writing?” he said, interrupting the song.
More playing ensued, until this: “Did you like the show?” And this: “You can keep writing, I’m just kidding.”
As I said, I don’t remember much about the encore, especially since Botti stared me down during much of it from a foot away. Thanks, man.
The frequent Grand Rapids concertgoers sitting next to me wanted to make sure I said one thing in my review: “Tell them Grand Rapids is so lucky to have Chris Botti.”
Done. Hopefully I also showed them why.