Live Jazz: Chris Botti at the Greek Theatre

Live Jazz:  Chris Botti at the Greek Theatre

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles, 6/3/12. Chris Botti made his annual appearance at the Greek Theatre last night. And it began in appropriately lyrical fashion, with a nearly full moon beaming through a misty sky.

For the past few years, Botti performances have included rich assemblages of talented artists, playing music reaching across a wide spectrum of genres. So, too, with this appearance, which began with a quick-triggered jazz set from the basic Botti ensemble – featuring the fast-fingers and soaring imagination of pianist Geoffrey Keezer. Botti’s own soloing, especially in this segment, sometimes displayed a somewhat harder bop inflection than has usually been present in his playing, adding yet another appealing hue to his already colorful musical palette.

Next up, he was joined by violinist Caroline Campbell in the first of several appearances by this gifted artist. Their duets on “Emmanuel” and a Chopin Prelude were exquisite displays of intimate musical story telling.

Yet another musical direction followed. Botti often speaks of the impact Miles Davis had upon him as a 12 year old. And he affirmed that impact in loving fashion in an emotionally layered rendering of Davis’ “Flamenco Sketches.”

Botti then focused the spotlight on the remarkable Uruguayan guitarist Leonardo Amuedo, playing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” Here, and elsewhere throughout the two hour program, Amuedo moved easily from subtle Latin rhythms to rock star electric guitar, comping with brisk swing on the straight ahead jazz passages, and doing it all with stage presence revealing the qualities of a potential star in the making.

Grammy-winning singer Lisa Fischer is already a star in her own right. And her mesmerizing performance, especially in an unlikely blending of “I Love You Porgy” and “The Look of Love,” produced some of the most memorable moments of the entire evening. As if that wasn’t enough, she and Botti then stepped down to stroll through the audience in an up close and personal rendering of “The Very Thought of You.”

And there was more – much more: A spotlight moment for singer/actor Michael Arden. A violin solo by Campbell in which she assembled a collection of the instrument’s most difficult techniques and performed them in a brilliantly articulate display of musical magic. And a drum solo by Billy Kilson that somehow managed to combine wit and humor with explosive high energy.

Botti held all these elements together with graceful ease and consummate professionalism. Always at the center of the music, opening the way for his companions to express themselves, he was also at the head of the parade. A master musician in his own right, Botti has discovered – via his many musical journeys of the past decade – how to lead engaging performances, rich with collective creativity.

The International Review of Music