Chris Botti - The Merriam Theater, Philadelphia, 5/06/2017; Botti Elevates the Art of the Trumpet; Also Reviewed: Impressions (2012)
Photo courtesy of chrisbotti.com
When Chris Botti played the Merriam Theater in Philadelphia, Saturday night the sixth of May, I could not help but think how much has changed in the sixteen years since I last saw him. Back then, in a venue located just a few doors up the street, Botti wowed the crowd with a tight set of the jazz rock that he had just released on the album Night Moves. That was one fantastic show.
I remember it like it was yesterday. Botti had a female Israeli drummer who played so well with the bassist that they seemed connected in some fashion. The guitarist, Marc Shulman, was a phenomenal player we had seen many times before. Botti played his trumpet and was cooler than cool, Chet Baker reincarnate.
Fast forward to 2017. With a series of albums featuring a diverse array of duet partners, Chris Botti has expanded his music to include both pop and classical. In the process, he has become a major star at the level of Yo-Yo Ma, Sting, and Andrea Bocelli, to name just three of the artists with whom Botti plays regularly.
The sound system at the Merriam was loud, filling the theater with sound; and on top of the mix was Botti's trumpet, clear and true. After a couple of numbers, Botti began to introduce the songs. He seemed to relish the job of emceeing the concert, giving background on the songs, telling stories, cracking jokes, and talking about the other players in his band.
Botti is one of the most generous band leaders in that he gives ample time for his players to do solos and perform pieces devoted to their instrument. There were songs featuring Geoffrey Keezer on the piano. He sounded especially good duetting with Botti on "My Funny Valentine" to end the show. Lee Pearson got to rock out with a serious drum solo. Sy Smith was the featured vocalist on a number of selections. She did a fine jazz vocal on "The Very Thought of You". Later she and the rest of the band delivered a high energy cover of Al Green's "Let's Stay Together", which featured some fiery lead guitar by Leo Amuedo. Botti's superb band also included Richie Goods on bass and Rachel Eckroth on keys.
Several songs included the beautiful violin work of Caroline Campbell. One piece she performed was introduced by Chris as an epic jam; you can watch the video below and see her develop this improvisation which crescendos into a cover of Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir". It's both dramatic and satisfying. Botti spoke at length about playing with Andrea Bocelli and his search for a classical tenor. He then introduced Rafael Moras who proceeded to sing a phenomenal take on "Time To Say Goodbye". That song was, I thought, the high point of the entire show. Watch the performance below.
See more videos from this show:
The Very Thought Of You
Epic Violin Solo/Kashmir (Led Zep cover) feat. Caroline Campbell
Let's Stay Together (Al Green cover)
My Funny Valentine
EPK: All about the making of his most recent album, Impressions, 2012
Roy Firestone Interview, Part 1 (mislabeled on video)
Roy Firestone Interview, Part 2 (mislabeled on video)
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Stream on Spotify
Chris Botti's latest album is Impressions. The fact that it's from 2012 just means that we can probably expect something new from him anytime. If you don't have, or haven't heard Impressions, it is a really brilliant record, perhaps Botti's best yet. One track features Andrea Bocelli, Vince Gill sings on another, and Herbie Hancock plays on another. Caroline Campbell, who dazzled the audience at the Merriam (video above), was also the featured violonist on this album. There is a gorgeous instrumental version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow". The album ends with a track that, for my money, is worth the price of the album. Mark Knopfler guests on "A Wonderful World", which he not only sings, he also plays his guitar. Combined with Botti's trumpet, that's pure brilliance.
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