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Botti Brings Great Jazz and Prompts Respect at Mondavi Finale

By L. PIERCE CARSON, Napa Valley Register

Spending 300 days on the road each year doesn’t leave a lot of time for much else.

Jazz trumpeter Chris Botti (pronounced ‘bohti’) wouldn’t have it any other way. He loves performing for music lovers the world over.
Botti and a band of inspired musicians will be touring both South Africa and Australia for the first time this year.
“You’d be surprised how many (successful) musicians aren’t known outside this country,” the lanky, blond, blue-eyed 47-year-old musician said while warming up for his third appearance at the Robert Mondavi Winery Saturday night.

Botti and band will be on tour through early spring next year and then, and only then, will the popular jazz artist take time from the road to work on a new recording. At this point, he’s just not sure what tack the new CD will take.

“I’m just happy to be working,” he declared, “grateful for being able to go into so many different parts of the world. We’ll also be touring Asia and this will be my seventh appearance in Poland.” He’ll also have stops in both London and Berlin, another cross-country tour and a two-week holiday run at the famed Blue Note in New York’s Greenwich Village at the end of the year. He’ll return to the Bay Area in September for a show at Villa Montalvo in Saratoga, he told last weekend’s sell-out crowd of 1,400-plus at the landmark Oakville winery.
Saturday’s performance was the second Botti and company had offered in the Napa Valley in the span of a week. Last weekend, they were featured on the bill for the 125th anniversary celebration of Far Niente Winery, along with violinist Joshua Bell and pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet. In fact, Thibaudet stuck around this past week to perform at Festival del Sole dates throughout the valley and came to Saturday’s Mondavi event, which was featured as a Festival del Sole offering.

Coming to prominence with the 2001 recording of the “Night Sessions” CD, Botti has established a reputation as a versatile musician in both jazz and pop music for his ability to fuse both styles together. His PBS television programs and brilliant recordings, as well as frequent appearances in concert halls, have made Botti a household name.

Botti appeared here as well at Lincoln Theater two years ago with an outstanding group of musicians in tow. Back with Botti Saturday night was consummate pianist Billy Childs, who has arranged material for such artists as Sting, Gladys Knight, Michael Bublé and Dianne Reeves, with whom he last appeared here at the Mondavi summer festival. While the Grammy Award-winner is a significant jazz voice, he was on restricted duty the other night as he had injured a hand. Taking the lead on keyboards in various band jams was another top-flight keyboardist, Geoffrey Keezer.

Also returning was guitarist Mark Whitfield, a remarkable improviser. A student of the Wes Montgomery/George Benson school of jazz guitar, Whitfield was discovered by Benson and launched his solo career more than two decades ago. Whitfield has a brilliant melodic sense and chops to match. His extended solo on Miles Davis’ “Flamenco Sketches” made the blood run hot.

Equally talented string player Carlos Enrique, a relative newcomer, gave the evening’s repertoire a lot of funky bottom, whether Enrique was playing standup or electric bass.

One of the world’s elite drummers, Billy Kilson is also a member of Botti’s musical posse. Kilson demonstrated speed, dexterity and a playful mood the other night. Botti brands Kilson as the world’s best “bad ass” drummer. Few would argue with that assessment after taking in Saturday’s concert.

Lucia Micarelli is back on the tour, Botti noted, after recovering remarkably from an almost devastating hand injury. She’s an exceptional violinist who traded leads with Botti on Ennio Morricone’s haunting “Love Theme from Cinema Paradiso.”

Grammy Award-winning vocalist Lisa Fischer (“How Can I Ease the Pain?”) provided distinguished, memorable interpretations of standards, such as “The Very Thought of You,” and displayed a funky, playful side with Burt Bacharach’s “The Look of Love.” She’s a great addition to the lineup.
Additional highlights included a silky arrangement by Botti and Whitfield of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and a rip-roaring arrangement of “Indian Summer” that closed the choice second set.

Botti’s two hour show was remarkable for a couple of reasons. Of course, we were awed by the incredible talent on display.
But there was also another notable element that has been missing at Mondavi for some time now. It was the sound of respect. When the headliner played a quiet note, took a necessary breath, or his outstanding vocalist whispered a familiar lyric, we could hear, we could relate. You could hear the proverbial pin drop. This was a crowd that had come to listen to the music, not to impress one another with recent exploits. This was a crowd showing respect to those around them, not the bunch of rowdies that’ve shown up for once-upon-a-time nightclub acts, dance bands and blowzy has-bands we’ve come to accept in recent Mondavi seasons.

Would that we could return to this caliber of concert and audience a couple of times each season at least. Well, hope springs eternal.

Concert Review: Live at The Greek Theatre

By Amy Balsam – Examiner.com, Los Angeles

On Saturday, July 10, 2010, one year and a day after his sold out show at The Greek Theatre in 2009, Chris Botti, the  #1 selling American jazz instrumental artist and one of the hardest working men in show business, returned for another incredible evening of music.  Joined onstage by some of the best musicians in the business, Chris and his band performed for his fans under the L.A. sky, giving a performance that led to multiple standing ovations throughout the night.

Chris started the evening out with the beautiful “Ava Maria” and then switched gears to “When I Fall In Love”, (a song originally recorded by Doris Day and then covered by a wide range of artists from Nat King Cole, Kenny Rogers, Celine Dion and Boyz II Men featuring Michael Buble) on which award winning pianist Billy Childs dazzled with his improvisational skills.  Later in the show, Chris told the tale of performing at a wedding in Tuscany at which he was joined onstage by his good friend Sting, to much delight by the bride and groom to have their two favorite artists share in their special day.  When Chris and the band were leaving the wedding, violinist Lucia Micarelli fell and a glass went through her hand, threatening to put an end to her incredible musical career.  The tale has a happy ending, as Chris asked the doctor who operated on Lucia’s hand and who created a very successful rehab program for her, to stand in the audience where he was greeted with a standing ovation and cheers from the fans.  Lucia then joined Chris onstage to duet on “Emmanuel” and each note she played was beautifully haunting.  Chris and Lucia were reunited onstage later in the show for another enchanting duet on the love theme from the film Cinema Paradiso, which Chris shared is his favorite movie.

The incomparable songstress and Grammy winner Lisa Fischer joined Chris onstage to duet on “Good Morning Heartache”, which also showcased drummer Billy Kilson’s immense talent.  Billy led an impromptu jam session with the crowd chanting George Clinton’s “We Got The Funk” and he definitely brought the funk on this number.  You could tell how much fun Billy was having with this song as his larger than life personality was shining bright with each hit of his drumsticks.  Lisa and Chris performed a very sexy rendition of “The Look of Love” which showcased Lisa’s smooth vocals and soulful style.  Then Lisa absolutely amazed the audience with her singing of Andrea Bocelli’s part on the operatic hit “Italia” co-written by Chris and David Foster.

In between songs, Chris was as warm and engaging as ever, talking with the audience as if he was reunited with old friends, which is yet another reason to appreciate one of the most likable talents in the music industry.  Chris’ shows have a very welcoming and intimate feel to them.  You can tell he leaves his heart on the stage every night and he truly loves what he does.  He is so gracious in publicly praising the musical geniuses he shares the stage with, and throughout his concert steps to the side to give each member of the band their moment in the spotlight.  He is quick to acknowledge the talents of guitarist Mark Whitfield, keyboardist Geoff Keezer, bassist Carlos Henriquez, drummer Billy Kilson and pianist Billy Childs.  You can tell they all love playing together and Chris Botti and his band are a real musical family.

It is evident from attending one of his shows, that Chris Botti is a real class act!  He closed the show by inviting a 13 year old aspiring trumpet player and his family to come join him in the front row where he encouraged him to follow his dream of being a professional musician and impressed upon him the importance of practicing his craft.  He said the teenage trumpet player is the future of music and Chris treated this young musician like he was a rockstar at the Greek Theatre that night.

Chris ended the show up close and personal strolling through the audience with a stripped down version of “One For My Baby (And One More For The Road”) accompanied only by Billy Child’s on piano.  It was the perfect end to a perfect show.

Concert Review: Live at The Greek Theatre

By Don Heckman

Chris Botti’s traveling road show made its annual appearance at the Greek Theatre Saturday night. And the enthusiastic, near capacity crowd loved every minute of the two hour performance.

And why shouldn’t they. Botti’s warm and engaging trumpet sound is one of the most appealing timbres on the contemporary jazz scene. He was backed by a sterling ensemble of players – pianist Billy Childs, guitarist Mark Whitfield, keyboardist Geoff Keezer, bassist Carlos Henriquez and drummer Billy Kilson. And his two guest stars – violinist Lucia Micarelli and singer Lisa Fischer – quickly revealed the capacity to steal a show from anybody.

Good ingredients are vital, of course, whether it’s putting together an entertaining show or making a memorable lasagna. But equally important is the way they’re put together. And Botti’s pacing and his sequencing were beautifully done.

Start with a lyrical “Ave Maria” to assure the audience members eagerly anticipating the Botti sound. Then switch into an exploratory “When I Fall In Love,” showcasing some of the most musically adventurous passages of the night, provided by the improvisationally exploratory imagination of Childs. Follow up with more Botti lyricism, this time in a reading of “Caruso,” from his Italia album.

By this point, all the pieces were beginning to smoothly fit into place. A loose romp through Miles Davis’ “Sketches of Spain” allowed Botti to stretch his commendable solo chops (compensating for his somewhat confused introductory assessment of the importance of the Davis Kind of Blue album). And the evening hit its first peak with the stunning “Emmanuel” duet between Botti and the gorgeous drama of Micarelli’s violin playing.

The evening’s second half took everything up another level. Among the highlights: a loose-limbed romp through “Good Morning Heartache,” performed with plenty of improvisational spunk, despite its minimal connection with either the meaning or the intent of the song itself; another musically intimate duet between Botti and Micarelli, this time with Ennio Morricone’s gorgeous love theme melody from the film Cinema Paradiso.

And, perhaps most intriguing of all, the gripping vocal magic of Lisa Fischer. Although she’s had a kind of major league visibility singing back-up for the likes of Luther Vandross and the Rolling Stones, Fischer is an extraordinary artist in her own right. And the interpretive range she displayed – from “The Look of Love” and “The Very Thought of You” to her counter tenor version of Andrea Bocelli’s vocal on “Italia” was the stuff of a major league talent. The time is overdue for her solo career to take off.

Botti, who engaged the audience in entertaining fashion with his between songs remarks ended the night in appropriately up close fashion, turning off all the amplification and strolling into the crowd to play – with the sole accompaniment of Childs’ piano – “One For My Baby (And One More For the Road).” Appropriate, because of the intimacy of the way it was done. And appropriate because the Chris Botti traveling road show was on its way again, heading north for a midweek date in Milwaukee.