Chris Botti February 10, 2007
Botti Blows Up Cerritos
By Glen Creason
Chris Botti is a man of paradoxes. He’s an overnight sensation who has played steadily on major records since the beginning of the 90’s. He is a well-schooled jazz man not from the Big Apple, New Orleans or Chi-town but Corvallis, Oregon. He’s a virtuoso on his instrument yet gives equal time to other band members in his live shows. He’s articulate, handsome, and famous and has influential friends but is still self-effacing and humble about his awesome gifts. Lastly, he has a decidedly nice-guy image but can blow the trumpet like a stone-killer.
Visiting the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts over the weekend Botti (pronounced Boaty by his road manager) was even better than advertised. As a matter of fact he was terrific on three counts; his playing was exemplary, his band was fantastic and his exposition along with the music was smart, humorous and edifying. The many ladies present seemed to enjoy his good looks but everyone in attendance dug his electrifying solos that blended beautifully into a total team concept. He might have Kobe Bryant moves on his ax but passes the ball.
If the opening number of “Ave Maria” might have given some the idea that this was a smooth jazz, easy chair show that all was exploded by the wild and wooly “When I Fall in Love” that followed. Botti specializes in a sort of trumpet bookend, starting sweet and then blowing raucous with the help of his outstanding band mates. It is impossible to put one in front of the other but Marc Whitfield’s muscled-up jazz guitar, James Genus’ bass on steroids, Alan Pasqua’s mercurial keyboards and the incomparable Billy Kilson’s drums ensured Botti of a powerhouse sound that reached the back wall and then some on this night.
There were a few dreamy ballads including an evocative “Cinema Paradiso,” and “What’ll I Do” plus a nod to the great Miles Davis masterpiece “Kind of Blue” in Botti’s best playing on the night on the free-style “Flamenco Sketches.” Giving due respect to the great brother Miles, Chris Botti showed shades of color from the trumpet only a master can produce. There were two surprising and spectacular Leonard Cohen tunes; the many layered “Thousand Kisses Deep” and a gorgeous “Hallelujah” that were simply worth the price of admission standing on their own.
Botti also let go the reigns many times on the night, allowing the band to blast away including Whitfield’s tour de force on a “Streets Ahead” with plenty of giddy up, a very hot jam on the unlikely “the Look of Love” and the total involvement of “Relativity” punctuated by one of the most dynamic drum solos ever seen on the planet by Billy Kilson. The man has the fastest hands seen since Muhammad Ali fought Big Cat Williams. On ballad and jam Alan Pasqua played piano with sublime expressiveness and driving power. The headliner compared him to Bill Evans which certainly is the highest compliment any pianist can get. Also, dazzling Sy Smith stepped to the mike for a triumvirate of vocals, shining brightest on “Good Morning Heartache” in between a fast and furious give and take between her Cousin Marc’s guitar and Botti’s white hot trumpet. The tight and spirited show was complimented by a single encore by Chris Botti with Pasqua on piano. It was a sweet and straightforward “One for My Baby” in which you could just hear the ice cubes tinkling in glasses at the bar around closing time.