Trumpeter Chris Botti dazzles at Riverbend
BY JANELLE GELFAND
Trumpeter Chris Botti’s show at Riverbend on Saturday night dazzled, from the Miles Davis arrangement of Joaquin Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez” to his nod to Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli in “Time to Say Goodbye.” But the best moment of this high-energy display was a surprise encore, which came after the Cincinnati Pops and most of Botti’s band had left the stage.
With only his piano player, the superb Billy Childs, Botti lifted his horn in a gorgeous rendition of “My Funny Valentine.” It was the piece he had heard Miles Davis play when he was 12, which convinced him to devote his life to music. His playing was personal, intimate and warm – and showed another side to the range of his artistry.
Botti’s Riverbend show, a menu of love ballads, pop tunes and jazz standards, had listeners on their feet several times on Saturday. He’s appeared other times with the Cincinnati Pops in Music Hall, but this time, the Pops, led by John Morris Russell, played mostly back-up. Botti brought with him his band of remarkable musicians, who lent their own kind of dazzle in sophisticated arrangements.
Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez,” originally written as a guitar concerto, introduced Australian guitarist Ben Butler and violinist Serena McKinney, who made lovely contributions as Botti played its soaring themes. Besides his flashy technique – and there was lots of that on display on Saturday – he knew exactly how to phrase a melody for romantic effect.
There were alluring duos between Botti and McKinney in “Emmanuel” and Ennio Morricone’s love theme from “Cinema Paradiso.” (When Delta lost the violinist’s luggage on the red-eye from L.A., Downtown’s Saks outfitted her with a gown for the show, Botti noted.)
Sinatra’s “When I Fall in Love” evolved into a hot jam session, with Botti pulling from an arsenal of improvisations against some showy contributions from bassist Richie Goods.
The trumpeter muted his horn for “Flamenco Sketches,” from Davis’ “Kind of Blue” album, which traveled from the blues to a swinging showpiece. Even with a mute, which he also used in Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” he managed to communicate his distinctive, singing tone. Watching Botti’s draw-dropping feats — glissandos, trills, tremolos and screeches into the stratosphere – gave you the feeling that he was capable of just about anything.
Born in Portland, educated at Indiana University, the 51-year-old trumpeter was an amiable host. Between numbers, he chatted about his work with Sting and Bocelli, and the time he played for Bill Clinton, when “the president stood three feet in front of the bell of my trumpet, analyzing everything.”
A soulful singer named Sy Smith joined for Burt Bacharach’s “The Look of Love” and other tunes, at one point scatting in perfect synch with the trumpeter. She and Botti strolled into the audience in “The Very Thought of You,” as the band cranked up the decibel level on electric guitars. Another singer, George Komsky, added an Italianate voice to “Italia,” which Botti co-wrote with the great David Foster.
Things were more white-hot after intermission. Drummer Billy Kilson, who moved and grooved all evening, was showcased at the end in a spectacular display of his personality and virtuosity. And I can’t say enough about Child’s stunning piano playing all evening. His inventive improvisations drew upon a range of styles and wide-ranging harmonies. The show’s rousing closer was Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.” Smith sang along with the trumpeter as the crowd stood and clapped to the music, and Botti promised to come back.
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