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.
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.
For those living in Philadelphia, New Jersey and Delaware, Chris will be visiting WHYY TV 12 on Sunday, March 21st during the airing of “Chris Botti In Boston Part 2”. Tune in at 2:30pm and 9:00pm EDT for a special ticket offer! Check your local listings for more info.
Also, for those of you living in the Los Angeles area, KCET in Los Angeles will be re-airing “Chris Botti In Boston Part 2” March 20th at 8:30pm and March 21st at 8:00pm PDT.