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Jazzfest: Chris Botti review

By Terry Steeves on June 23, 2015

Chris Botti and his line-up of world-class musicians and special guests completely seduced the crowd on Sunday night’s Main Stage performance in the gorgeous setting of Confederation Park. Botti displayed his mastery of utilizing the trumpet as a tool to add unique shapes to multiple genres of music. His amazing skills of playing and adaptation were immediately demonstrated in his opening tribute to Miles Davis in, “Concierto de Aranjuez”, complete with his signature long sustains that pierced the air. After that, he would step aside numerous times to allow his band members to shine front and center.

Touring with the band was American violinist, Lucia Micarelli, who astounded us with a haunting piece called “Cinema Paradiso”. The melody kicked into somewhat of a groove when the rhythm section, along with pianist, Geoffrey Keezer joined in. The music built into a breathtaking crescendo layered with violin and trumpet counterpoints that brought the audience into boisterous cheers and swells of applause. I also loved the wonderful surprise that came later with Micarelli’s rendition of Led Zeppelin’s, “Kashmir”, and the entrancing duet between her and singer, George Komsky in the classic, “Con Te Partiro”. Komsky would also lend his strong tenor voice in a classical piece co-written by Botti and David Foster entitled “Italia”.

The serious skills of electric and upright bassist, Richie Goods were showcased in the Miles Davis classic “Flamenco Sketches”, in a solo that detoured from a Latin-flavoured groove, to a couple of bars of “Eleanor Rigby”. Keezer added some beautiful piano cascades, before the rest of the band joined into a faster-paced groove, while Botti stood off to the side to watch these amazing musicians take over. He finally jumped in to add horn spurts to this free form melange of frenzied modern jazz bliss. At the song’s close, Botti let drummer, Lee Pearson decide what kind of trumpet blast was going to end the song… it was, “loud, high, and difficult”. Pearson would also have his stand-alone moment in an exhibit of drum solo madness near the end of the show, during which he showed off his one-handed prowess while towel-drying his face with the other.

Australian guitarist, Ben Butler, gave us some of his brilliance in “Hallelujah”, as well as a head-turning blistering solo in the classic standard, “The Very Thought of You”. Vocals were featured by the incredible Sy Smith, as she and Botti descended from the stage into opposite sides of the audience under the light rain. She brought me to a stand-still with her impressive control and soprano range, which also showcased her whistle register ability, especially prevalent in a heated session of scatting vs. trumpet banter during “The Look Of Love”. At one point, it was nearly impossible to distinguish between the horn and the voice. Near the show’s close, she brought the crowd to their feet with her blazing vocals on the soul classic, “Let’s Stay Together”.

Botti and his band returned to the stage to play the night’s encore song, “The Nearness Of You”, one of my favourite jazz standard pieces. “Let’s pretend we’re all in a little dingy nightclub in New York City for this one. Tomorrow, we’re heading to Toronto… who’s coming with us?” he playfully quipped. Botti made himself available after the show for autographs and photos. At one point, he looked up to ask a young fellow, whose CD he’d finished signing, how old he was. The starstruck youth told him he was 16, and Botti’s face lit up, perhaps reminded of the same passion that had hit him in his own formative years, and the influence that other jazz greats had had on him. It was a “passing the torch” moment that I was only too happy to have witnessed.