Chris Botti: Concert Review, Vancouver, May 2, 2012

There was the usual substantial contingent of twenty-something gorgeous young women lined up in the lobby of Vancouver’s Orpheum theatre to obtain Chris Botti’s autograph after his sold-out concert this week. Usual for Chris, that is, if not for the rarefied atmosphere of classical and jazz musicians. Chris is the exception that proves the rule, both for his astonishingly youthful and elegant appearance (he turns 50 this year) and his electrifyingly soulful performance of a genre created some decades ago by the likes of Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and Gil Evans. I’m speaking, of course, of such classic albums as Kind of Blue, Bitches Brew and Sketches of Spain: jazz trumpet in eclectic settings that varies from orchestral stagings to the evocation of intimate, rain-drenched introspective wee small hours of the morning. No wonder women half Botti’s age swoon over him; his musical ability and stage presence have made him North America’s largest-selling instrumental artist of the past decade.

Botti is far from a popularizer of standard jazz or classical fare though, as several of the arrangements were audacious, even startling in execution, with a seamless integration of jazz combo and the full orchestra. Chris is also remarkably humble and generous in his devotion to Miles, Herbie and his own talented band, consisting of Grammy winner Billy Childs on piano, virtuouso Robert Hurst on bass, Mark Whitfield on guitar and the amazing Billy Kilson on drums. Guest vocalist Lisa Fischer made several outstanding contributions to the concert, while Caroline Campbell’s ravishing violin tone commanded rapt attention. Campbell, by the way, could well headline a concert on her own. I highly recommend her performance of Astor Piazzolla’s “Oblivion” on Chris Botti’s newly released CD Impressions.

Highlights of the Vancouver concert included Burt Bacharach’s composition “The Look of Love”, most notably recorded in a pop vein by the inimitable Dusty Springfield, but here Lisa Fischer and Chris delivered a powerful and jazzy interpretation. The vocals were occasionally drowned in the mix, but the instrumentation was superb. Also striking was the band’s delivery of the Puccini chestnut “Nessun Dorma”, which with Botti’s exceptional tone was given new life. Special mention must be made of his composing ability as well, amply demonstrated in collaboration with Vancouver’s own David Foster in “Italia”.

Chris Botti wowed the crowd as well as the orchestra in delivering one of the best concerts heard in Vancouver this year. He’s a remarkable player, possessing as well that rare quality of connecting in an extraordinary way with his audience while expanding their musical vocabulary.