Chris Botti gives dazzling, spot-on performance
BY ALAN ADAMS
SPECIAL TO THE LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL
Chris Botti doesn't want to be defined as a jazz musician, even though, right now, he is the top-selling jazz instrumentalist in the world. Botti would prefer to be recognized merely as a trumpet player. Merely? That's like saying Rembrandt merely painted pretty pictures.
He has it all: a big, rich warm sound, dazzling technique (that he doesn't overuse) and seemingly effortless range. His two-plus hour set Friday in Reynolds Hall at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts began with a tune called "Venice," from his album "Italia." Following the original statement and development, Botti traded eight-measure ad lib phrases with the members of his five-piece band, leaving no doubt that he is plenty willing to share the spotlight with them - as he did frequently throughout the evening. Next came the Victor Young tune "When I Fall In Love," with a brilliant piano improvisation by the great Billy Childs, who numbers among his credits four Grammys and the 2009 Guggenheim Award in composition.
An unusual addition to a jazz concert, classical violinist Caroline Campbell was brought on to join Botti in his version of the "Chopin Prelude in C Minor," a piece commissioned by the government of Poland where the group tours annually. The rich sound of her (amplified) violin was an ideal complement to Botti's own instrument, and the lush lyrical phrases the two produced were perfectly matched.
The late Miles Davis was a strong influence on Botti, and there is a strong trace of Davis's style in his playing. However, one can pick up elements of Dizzy Gillespie and even Chet Baker in more reflective moments. Campbell joined Botti on "Flamenco Sketches," from what is probably Davis' best-known album, "Kinda Blue." A counterpart album, "Sketches of Spain," provided another Davis classic, "Concierto de Aranjuez." Tempo and volume dropped markedly for a hauntingly beautiful version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," done with nearly understated simplicity by Botti's muted trumpet with guitar.
As a change of pace, singer Lisa Fischer took the stage for a knockout set that began with Burt Bacharach and Hal David's "The Look of Love." Soon, both Fischer and Botti were in the front rows of the audience for Ray Noble's "The Very Thought of You," made a hit by Billie Holiday and more recently covered by Etta James. Fischer made her mark through years of appearances on tour with the Rolling Stones; however, Friday's exposure, albeit brief, gave her latitude to display a full catalog of vocal skills, including a range rivaling that of Botti's trumpet.
While tone production on a brass instrument is largely the product of the player, a share of the rich consistent trumpet sound he is known for must be attributed, in part, to Botti's horn itself, a 1939 Committee model Martin, whose large bore softens and shades the bright piercing quality sought by orchestral players.
Botti's stage persona appears quiet and withdrawn, that is, until he begins to play. He looks much younger than his age - he'll turn 50 later this year - but he exudes confidence and charm whenever he takes the microphone.
Botti has diverse experience in several musical genres, including studio work, classical, pop, rock and fusion. One of his mentors, and a musical collaborator, is the multitalented David Foster. No doubt it is largely due to Foster's influence that Botti rejects being pigeonholed. With 14 albums to his credit, and now near what is probably the peak of his creative arc, Chris Botti seem destined to occupy a place of prominence in whatever fields of musical endeavor he chooses to pursue.
Read at lvrj.com