Jazz can be raucous and bawdy, noisy and tasteless with unresolved suspensions and a disorganized crashing foundation. It can also be sensual when the crashing is reduced to a tickle on the cymbal. It can be classy when the lights go down and all that’s on stage is the pure simplicity of musicians pouring out their emotions. It can be fun when the musicians converse with their instruments, and it can create the most fulfilling sound when those tense, grating suspensions resolve.
Chris Botti is not one for resolution. He always goes for the leading tone, a note above or below what a classical musician expects to create tension. He plays fast, high spurts in the middle of a melodic line, and he will scream out high notes for painfully long stretches. His music is exciting, enticing, sensual and sweet.
Despite being the name on the band and very much in control of the production, Botti is a surprisingly introverted character on stage. He was unflinchingly flirtatious with Lisa Fischer, a former singer for the Rolling Stones, during all of her antics: rubbing his shoulders, rubbing his chest, taking over the fingering on his trumpet while he played, mimicked his licks no matter how high or fast. She was a showboat with a phenomenal voice, and he certainly played along. But he was also very gracious, giving formal little bows after solos and recognizing his excellent band at every opportunity.
His band was phenomenal. Drummer Billy Kilson played with such ease and style, dancing to the rhythms, never overdoing anything, slamming it out then dropping back. The band was comfortably rooted in that beat, and clearly trusted him and one another. After eight years of touring it is no surprise that they can, without any signal visible to the audience, suddenly play in unison for a few sweet seconds at a time; or that each soloist is given exactly the right amount of room – sometimes the entire stage, as when guest violinist Caroline Campbell played a solo piece, but sometimes only yielding the spotlight after a musical argument – like when pianist Billy Childs, Kilson, and bassist Richie Goods were in clear competition, playing louder and wilder, all the while grinning at one another. Each of them could have rocked the solo independently, but with all three having at it at once, it was almost primal, like extremely talented gorillas pounding their chests, demanding to be heard.
Leonardo Amuedo was a surprising addition to the group as a Latin guitarist, but he more than proved himself with his slick technique and the flair he brought to Miles Davis’ “Concierto de Aranjuez”. All the while, keyboardist Andrew Ezrin played the orchestra… the entire orchestra.
Fischer was a highlight of the evening. It was truly incredible to hear her sing in unison or in canon with Botti, making her voice sound unbelievably like a trumpet. Her timbre has a smooth texture, easing from one note to the next, but can also wail out like an instrument, popping notes in perfect tune no matter what register.
The final piece was in character with the evening. “My Funny Valentine” was a tribute to Miles and a cool way to finish a concert. Botti mentioned Miles many times throughout the concert as the band played homages to several of his largest albums. It was most impressive that he could play the music of someone he admired so much without trying to mimic the style. My Funny Valentine sounded nothing like the ultra-simplistic Miles version, which is pure and clean. Like Miles, Botti played it smooth and soft, but it had a contemporary edge to it that Miles would never have played – stylistic gestures unique to Botti, like the startling leaps and complex harmonies created throughout the almost freestyle melody. Botti made it entirely his own.
Pictures courtesy of http://www.chrisbotti.com