Veteran bandleader Botti delivers once again

By Jim Sullivan / Contributing writer – Cape Cod Times

HYANNIS — No musician wears quite as many hats — and wears them so well — as does the nattily attired jazz man Chris Botti. He is, at the least, a triple-threat: trumpeter, entertainer/raconteur and bandleader.

Let’s consider the last, first. “My job as bandleader,” said the 55-year-old Botti, early in his set at the Cape Cod Melody Tent Saturday, “is to put together a Rubik’s Cube of all-star musicians.”

He’s done this for years and he’s doing again on this summer’s tour. It’s his name on the marquee, but with his six musicians and three guest singers he’s comprised a band of equals. And what Botti relishes most is sharing the spotlight, having musical conversations with his players, sparking off drummer Lee Pearson, violinist Caroline Campbell or pianist Elgar Djangirov.

In doing so, the 2½-hour concert went every which way, starting sentimental, slow and gentle, with “Gabriel’s Oboe” and “Theme from ’Cinema Paradiso” and then moving forward into a massive explosion with “You Don’t Know What Love Is.” Botti introduced it as a jazz standard, but promised Pearson, who he treated to a big beer cup full of red wine, would soon “drive it over a cliff.” Which the smiling drummer did, shedding his jacket, flinging his sticks into the crowd, performing like a syncopated octopus and drawing a standing O.

Botti is a master of cool, a dapper disciple of Miles Davis and shares his idol’s love of melancholic trumpet runs. He and his band sublimely played Davis’ “Blue & Green,” Botti describing the song’s genius as one of “mood being more important than lyric or melody.” Botti may take musical cues from Davis, but if Miles evinced diffidence or disdain on stage, Botti shines with munificence and charm.

Campbell, who also frequently plays classical music with Andrea Bocelli, did a gorgeous duet with Botti on “Emmanuel” and later took a star turn during Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” (incorporating the Beatles “Yesterday,” “Yankee Doodle” and a country hoedown).

Djangirov had a masterful solo during a classical/jazz fusion piece, “Variations on Bach’s Prelude in C# Major.”

Botti didn’t bring out a vocalist until near the end of the first set, that being Sy Smith who belted out “The Very Thought of You.” Veronica Swift did “Embraceable You” and Jonathan Johnson sang the operatic “Time to Say Goodbye.”

Smith returned near the night’s end leading all through a romp of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” with Botti plucking two enthusiastic 9-year-old girls, Hyannis’s Angelina Lessa and Centerville’s Raelyn Vincent, from the crowd to go up on stage and dance. (After the show, they got to meet him and take photos.)

It was a night of spirited music, racing across multiple genres, and witty chat. Botti once again called the Melody Tent “one of our favorite venues in the world to play,” and, while veteran concertgoers may smile and hear that compliment as business-as-usual baloney, I get the sense Botti means it, digging the intimacy this theater-in-the-round experience gives.