By his own estimation, Chris Botti has hit a career peak on his 12th album, “Impressions.”
The sprawling 13-track affair, released last year, finds the Portland, Ore.-born trumpeter performing alongside such disparate featured artists as jazz pianist Herbie Hancock, country superstar Vince Gill, Dire Straits guitar master Mark Knopfler, opera sensation Andrea Bocelli and songwriter David Foster. Then there’s the selections themselves, from the Knopfler-sung “What a Wonderful World,” to Botti’s take on Chopin’s Prelude No. 20 in C minor, to a dual instrumental performance with guitarist Leonardo Amuedo of modern R&B star R. Kelly’s “You Are Not Alone.”
“[It was] random, I would say, to go from Andrea Bocelli to Herbie Hancock to Mark Knopfler, David Foster, Vince Gill,” Botti said recently from his home in Los Angeles, on a rare break from his 300-show-a-year schedule. “They’re certainly not five artists that are coming from the same head space, but I think it all fits together. That’s where the craft of the making of an album comes through.”
Botti has long been interested in this craft, from his jazzy ’90s records through his breakthrough 2004 album “When I Fall in Love,” which established him as the largest-selling American instrumental artist. But with the Internet moving the music industry away from the traditional album format, Botti isn’t sure if he’ll be able to make another album on the scale of “Impressions” again.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
How Much: $75, $70, $40, $30, $20
More Info: 346-6204, www.proctors.org
“‘Impressions’ is definitely peaked, and it might be our final one, you know,” Botti said. “I mean that in the sense that this album was — we had the blessing of a great record company, Columbia Records, and the cost of it was enormous. The record business is changing so rapidly. So this might be the final big, glossy album — maybe the next one will be a jazz trio.”
At proctors on saturday
Fans can expect some songs from “Impressions” at Botti’s Proctors show Saturday night, but certainly not the same kind of experience.
“The records are with the intent of making a beautiful statement,” Botti said. “Live, if it doesn’t move from there at all — if I just duplicated the records — people would be leaning on the backs of their chairs having a nap. I think it’s very important in a concert situation to really show the virtuosity of the band, so we interject peaks and valleys, and some visceral, loud things.”
His years of touring with pop and rock artists, including a decade-long collaboration with Paul Simon in the ’90s and a featured spot on Sting’s 1999 tour for “Brand New Day” that opened Botti up to a much wider audience, have led him to craft a much more energetic show than his often sedate records.
“Being with so many rock bands, from Sting to Joni Mitchell, it’s nonstop,” Botti said. “I was trying to realize to myself, well, how do you break down the barrier so the audience is not intimidated by jazz, so that they’re moved in a way that makes them come out of the show thinking they had no idea they would expect that?”
3 weeks at the blue note
This current run of five Northeast dates serves as a prelude to Botti’s eighth annual three-week residency at the Blue Note Jazz Club in New York City, where he’ll perform twice every night from Dec. 16 through Jan. 5. It’s an intense schedule, but in some ways it’s easier than his normal touring.
“The Blue Note in particular is so much fun, because we’re in the same city for a long time and all of our friends get to come to the show — it’s kind of like a homecoming every year,” Botti said. “By the end of that run — two sets a night for three weeks in a row — I feel amazing. . . . We know that room really well and we feel rejuvenated, especially since we know that we’re not getting in a plane every day. That’s the most tiring part of what we do, honestly — playing two shows in a night is a walk in the park, as they say.”
In addition to his regular touring band, Botti is also bringing along concert violinist Caroline Campbell; vocalist Sy Smith, who featured on Botti’s 2009 live album “Chris Botti in Boston”; and another vocalist, George Komsky.
In some ways, the Boston performance, which featured another varied list of guests — Sting, Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and guitarist John Mayer among them — influenced the wide-ranging diversity found on “Impressions.”
The album was recorded with Botti’s longtime manager and producer, original Blood, Sweat & Tears drummer Bobby Colomby, who helped initiate Knopfler’s surprising vocal turn on “What a Wonderful World” (the guitarist has a reputation for refusing to sing anyone else’s songs but his own).
“My manager and Mark Knopfler go way, way back,” Botti said. “They were walking in Hyde Park [in London] one time, and out of the blue [Knopfler] just sort of said, ‘You know, Bobby, I think Chris should cover that song.’ And Bobby goes, ‘You know, we’ve always thought about doing that song, but it can be so controversial because of Louis Armstrong’s version; people have gotten mad about it. So I don’t know if Chris would want to do that.’ Mark said something along the lines of, it’s his daughter’s favorite song, and Bobby said, ‘Maybe if you sang it with him, he’d do it.”
The entire track was cut live in one take in London with Knopfler’s band. “All the vocals, the trumpet solo, the guitars, the trade-off — it was all one take, no editing, no retakes or flub-ups,” Botti said. “Mark was adamant — ‘We’re doing this thing live, Chris; you’re not allowed to nitpick it.’”
The collaboration with Hancock was another highlight for Botti. The two composed the track “Tango Suite” together at Hancock’s house, piecing the instrumental together from an extended jam session.
“It was surreal — I went to Herbie’s house and he basically rolled video and rolled tape simultaneously,” Botti said. “We didn’t say anything, really — maybe just that we sort of wanted it tango-ish in some sort of loose, atmospheric way. And then Herbie walked to the piano — I had my trumpet — and he paused before the keys at the piano, with his hands up. He played one chord, and I played the opening statement to ‘Tango Suite’; he played another chord, I played the second phrase; he played another chord, I played the third phrase.”
Botti is currently working on another concert, similar to “Chris Botti in Boston” in scope, that could reunite the featured artists on “Impressions.”
“It’s just, where in the world do we do it and feel that it’s the right thing?” Botti said. “The live in Boston album, a lot of stars aligned for me, not only musically, but in my life the stars aligned to be able to do that. . . . I’m hoping next year we’ll be able to do something.”
The album marked another landmark in Botti’s career — in February, the album won the Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Album. It was Botti’s fifth nomination, but first win.
“I think, in line with the place we were at, where the record company allowed us to realize whatever we wanted to — to have been acknowledged for that, I’m very, very happy and grateful for that,” Botti said. “But I’ve always viewed it as, the Grammy Award for me is being able to walk out on stage in Beijing or Sydney or wherever. For me, that’s the real Grammy Award.”
Reach Gazette reporter Brian McElhiney at 395-3111 or [email protected]
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