Blue suit deep water ocean blue, like brother can’t feel the effects of gravity blue, so far gone atmospheric blue, rides the waves to the horizon you don’t know when he’s through blue. Percussive power takes the wind and rain and thunder and still there’s a calmness, a control in the captain steering the ship.
The light plays warm upon the silver trumpet, the golden smile revealed.
“Evening, San Antonio,” the Grammy award-winning artist soaks in the familiar faces of his countrymen. “Can’t tell you how great it is to speak English again!”
Arts San Antonio presented Friday night’s performance at Trinity University’s Laurie Auditorium to thousands of bedazzled and believing fans of the ferociously pristine ensemble of Chris Botti.
The folks at Arts SA were able to wrangle Botti on his first day back in the states after several months performing internationally.
“We’ve been on the road 300 days a year for the past ten years,” Botti said, slick blond hair providing his silhouette with a subtly sharp yet sublimely smooth air. “We’ve been in Japan for a while, and we never know when people understand or don’t understand. It feels real good to be back home.”
Definitive of Botti’s affectation in general, was supreme charm in connecting with musicians and audience members alike through sincere dialogue, digging into lengthy stories ranging from playing weddings in Tuscany with Sting, to jamming out before Bill Clinton in a small New York loft.
“I think we, the world, can come together on one thing-Bill Clinton is a terrible saxophone player,” joked Botti, admitting that he was incredibly impressed with the former president’s knowledge of the jazz cannon. He even did his best Clinton impersonation, reflecting upon Miles Davis’ “Sketches of Spain,” which he played a poignant rendition of early in his set.
Space. It’s what gives definition, creates the form of what we perceive in our light-filled world. It’s what the great Miles Davis advocated for in jazz music, his opus Kind of Blue a rousing testament to that philosophy of opening up for the artistry of the musicians to organically unfold. So, too, is Botti’s stage reminiscent of such a collective belief, the careful arrangement of violinist Lucia Micarelli in perfect paramour parallel to the trumpeter, their interaction in heavenly harmony an exercise in discipline-coming apart then coming together, as the music swells and sways so do their bodies, as if reenacting a scene from an Italian inspired opera. Never did the movement or playing portray some sort of perfunctory expression, but rather a natural perfection and dedication to the indefinable synergy that is built between seven musicians as their heart speaks softly and grows each time they are together.
Ever present to the aural and emotional needs of his onlookers, Botti engaged those closest to him as much as those farther away, even conversing casually as his band started jamming on Davis’ “Flamenco Sketches.”
“You’re only nine? And this is your first jazz concert?” inquired Botti off-mic to a young man in the front row. “I bet you’re surprised to be here. ‘Mom, I thought we were going to see Justin Beiber,’ man did this guy get fooled!”
A hallmark of his creed as a musician, Botti has a knack for bringing out the best in his band. “The only thing Miles Davis got wrong in my humble opinion, was that he was missing a bass solo,” said Botti, introducing bassist Richie Goods for what would be an evolution from finesse to contrite joviality. Botti would assume an easy posture in either corner of the stage as these musicians, world-class in their own right, let their soul out to shine.
Equally as laudatory was the collaborative effort that Botti extended to musicians from Micarelli, to Rio de Janeiro guitarist Leonardo Amuedo (who performed a moving rendition of Michael Jackson’s “You Are Not Alone” with Botti), and the most vivacious vocalist in flowing satin of royal blue and gold.
“She’s been a pivotal part of our ensemble and helped make the Live in Boston DVD so special, give it up for Sy Smith!”
Her first breath a declaration of divinity in principle and form and forever does it ring throughout the chambers. Smith’s power is a gift equal parts presence, delivery, and gut-wrenching soul. Commanding the stage as if it is her very show and she’s performing at Carnegie Hall, the soaring alto/soprano stylistically demonstrates deftness and ease as she scit-scats along with Botti note for note. They even bust open during the jam portion of the tune “The Thought of You” for a little vocal trumpet riff on the spectacular opening riff to “Night in Tunisia,” a high moment for all bob-aholics in the room.
As Botti caressed the audience with his suave, yet brightly amicable conversational manner, Smith snuck out and appeared halfway up into the audience, and Botti jumped down to join her on the opposite aisle as they busted it open even wider, the trumpeter challenging Smith’s range in a friendly duo of virtuosity only yards away. The shining stars beseeched the crowd to snap along as the band continued to feel out the groove of the time and really unwind. The rapport with the crowd was hands down the most intimate and engaging of any concert I’ve witnessed at Laurie Auditorium.
The concert quite simply didn’t seem to end, and joyfully so, as Botti still had one more musician to feature. As if telling a story to an old friend, Botti revealed his desire to try to get drummer Billy Kilson on board with his world tour.
“When I called him in Tokyo he was like, ‘Yo, CB, what’s up? It’s like 4AM here man,’” related Botti, digging into a rich “Barry-White” bass for his Kilson impression. “Needless to say the three-month tour became ten years and here we are today. Billy Kilson!”
Brother gets it good when he gets it fresh and hot out of the oven, and the bassman is sure to line him up something made to order. They lay it down and bassman has an electric now and is slappin’ that axe like nobody’s business, playing “We Want the Funk” and I say “Gotta have that funk” and then they go deeper. Kilson is orchestrating a tsunami to arise out of his kit, pressing it down then rising up, the growth the swell the energy something maddening and voracious. All the while Kilson coolly grooving and dancing in Usher-style behind high-hat and tom. It didn’t quit and it only became more of everything as they started playing “Ironman,” Botti just kickin’ back and watching his boys play around as the scene transformed into a rock concert for a minute and then back into a funky groove and then back into jazz rock shuffle and the crowd is on their feet and this feeling you can’t beat and I’m walking away blown away.
Connection. Passionate musicianship. Flawless showmanship. Intimate interaction. Chris Botti left with at least one new evangelist after Friday night, and based upon the line of a hundred waiting for an autograph after the show, perhaps a few more.
*Featured/top image: Defined by a cool cordiality and charisma, Chris Botti (left) plays with a similar warmth and passion when lips hit brass. Photo by Adam Tutor.