By Don Heckman
Chris Bottiâ€™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 shouldnâ€™t they. Bottiâ€™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 â€“ pianist Billy Childs, guitarist Mark Whitfield, keyboardist Geoff Keezer, bassist Carlos Henriquez and drummer Billy Kilson. And his two guest stars â€“ violinist Lucia Micarelli and singer Lisa Fischer â€“ quickly revealed the capacity to steal a show from anybody.
Good ingredients are vital, of course, whether itâ€™s putting together an entertaining show or making a memorable lasagna. But equally important is the way theyâ€™re put together. And Bottiâ€™s pacing and his sequencing were beautifully done.
Start with a lyrical â€œAve Mariaâ€ to assure the audience members eagerly anticipating the Botti sound. Then switch into an exploratory â€œWhen I Fall In Love,â€ 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 â€œCaruso,â€ from his Italia album.
By this point, all the pieces were beginning to smoothly fit into place. A loose romp through Miles Davisâ€™ â€œSketches of Spainâ€ 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 â€œEmmanuelâ€ duet between Botti and the gorgeous drama of Micarelliâ€™s violin playing.
The eveningâ€™s second half took everything up another level. Among the highlights: a loose-limbed romp through â€œGood Morning Heartache,â€ 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 Morriconeâ€™s gorgeous love theme melody from the film Cinema Paradiso.
And, perhaps most intriguing of all, the gripping vocal magic of Lisa Fischer. Although sheâ€™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 â€“ from â€œThe Look of Loveâ€ and â€œThe Very Thought of Youâ€ to her counter tenor version of Andrea Bocelliâ€™s vocal on â€œItaliaâ€ 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 â€“ with the sole accompaniment of Childsâ€™ piano â€“ â€œOne For My Baby (And One More For the Road).â€ 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.
Versatile trumpeter Chris Botti might be the biggest Miles Davis fan that I have ever met. There is nothing that Chris does not know about Miles, his trumpet artistry, recordings and legacy. His energy on the subject is boundless and on this podcast episode, you will hear that passion for yourself.
– Joseph Vella
By Peter Landsdowne – TELEGRAM & GAZETTE REVIEWER
WORCESTER â€” Poor Chris Botti. The talented trumpeter with the tousled blond hair made People magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People list in 2004; and ever since then, some jazz aficionados have accused him of being a musical lightweight. Wrong!
Botti sent his detractors packing last night at The Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts during “An Evening with Chris Botti,” which was presented by Music Worcester Inc. as part of the Worcester Music Festival. Backed by his band (acoustic pianist Billy Childs, electric keyboardist Andy Ezrin, guitarist Mark Whitfield, bassist Robert Hurst, and drummer Billy Kilson), the trumpeter turned in a solid two-hour-long concert that showed that he knows how to handle the horn. An audience of 2,000 Botti fans packed the venue.
Botti began the concert with just pianist Childs backing him on a reverential version of “Ave Maria.” Botti’s beautifully burnished trumpet tone was much in evidence on this selection, as was his range. His sustained high note that ended the piece served as a cue for the rest of the band to take the stage.
The trumpeter’s take on the standard “When I Fall in Love” had Botti playing a sonic tribute to trumpeter Miles Davis, one of his acknowledged influences. Botti began the song with a wistful interpretation of the melody before drummer Childs doubled the tempo. Botti responded with a muscular trumpet improvisation that featured a bold and brassy sound and some deft valve work that pointed toward another influence on Botti, trumpeter Freddie Hubbard. It should be noted here that pianist Childs once performed with Hubbard and that Botti once studied with trumpeter Woody Shaw, Hubbard’s successor in the jazz trumpet lineage.
Botti switched gears on an operatic “Caruso,” which the trumpeter dedicated to Pavarotti. Electric keyboardist Ezrin provided some orchestral effects as Botti provided a superb example of what trumpet players call “singing on the horn.” The composition was a selection from Botti’s popular DVD “Chris Botti in Boston,” as was “Emmanuelle,” which featured special guest Lucia Micarelli on violin. Micarelli was also on board for a haunting duet with Botti on Italian film composer Ennio Morricine’s “Love Theme from Cinema Paradiso.”
Singer Nicki Richards, another special guest that Botti plucked from Madonna’s contingent of backup vocalists, nearly stole the show during her three-song stint with the trumpeter and his band. She belted out the pop classic “The Look of Love” before toning things down on “The Very Thought of You,” another classic from The Great American Songbook. Botti contributed a beautifully crafted a capella trumpet solo as an introduction to the latter tune, which ended with the trumpeter ascending chromatically into his trumpet’s high register.
Singer Richards and Botti transformed the Billie Holiday ballad “Good Morning Heartache” by performing it over drummer Kilson’s funk groove. Botti’s powerful trumpet solo included a nice touch: A quote from trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night in Tunisia.” Richards picked up the riff and intoned it in unison with Botti’s horn to end the tune.
Botti was at his jazzy best on “Flamenco Sketches,” a selection from the classic Miles Davis album “Kind of Blue.” The trumpeter invited Boston-based alto saxophonist Grace Kelly to the stage to duet with him on this one. Just 18 years old, Kelly is being touted as an up and coming jazz star, an observation that she reinforced with her searing solo on “Flamenco Sketches.” Botti responded with a smoldering solo that quickly caught fire and drew some spontaneous applause from the crowd.
Drummer Kilson’s bombastic drum solo on “Indian Summer,” not the standard of the same name but another tune in a funk groove, garnered a standing ovation from the audience. Botti promised an encore, which he prefaced by asking any young musicians in the crowd to identify themselves. The trumpeter then gave one 9-year-old piano student the thrill of her musical life by escorting her to the stage to sit by pianist Childs as Botti, who by this time was three rows deep in the crowd, played a fervent version of Frank Sinatra’s “One for My Baby” with just Childs backing him up.
It was a nice gesture, as was Botti’s suggestion to the parents in the crowd that if they want to wean their kids from the instant gratification of the Internet, video games, and other such pursuits, have them learn how to play a musical instrument. Judging from the brisk sales of Botti’s CDs in the lobby after the concert, there’ll be plenty of trumpets under the tree come Christmas.
Last year, I met an incredible young man and fellow trumpeter named Simon at my show in Krakow, Poland. I just received terrible news that he was involved in an auto accident and is severely injured. He’s currently recovering at the hospital but could definitely use any words of encourgement to lift his spirits. I’ve created a post in the forum section of my website with the hopes that all the other fans out there can send good wishes his way.