Botti's performance registers high

By Peter Landsdowne - TELEGRAM & GAZETTE REVIEWER

WORCESTER —  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.

United States