If nothing else, trumpeter Chris Botti showed us Saturday night at Proctors that good musicians can play — and own — a wide range of music, from Italian opera to Leonard Cohen to Miles Davis to Sting, and more.
Botti’s group brought a lot of personality to their playing, making sophisticated arrangements and improvisational jams very accessible to the full house. He gave his players a lot of room to stretch, particularly piano player Taylor Eigsti, the band’s newest member who lit up the band, and the audience, every time he was given a solo.
Violinist Caroline Campbell, from Botti’s live DVD in Boston, came out early to join Botti in a duet for “Emanuel.” Botti’s clean, full horn sound set over Campbell’s thinner but intense violin mixed wonderfully. Campbell came out later in the show to play by herself on stage. She was awesome, as Botti promised, but it seemed odd for her to be featured so much during a Botti concert.
He talked a bit about Miles Davis’ 1959 band, before playing “Flamenco Sketches” for about 15 minutes, each band member taking several rounds of solo. “This song changes every night,” Botti said, noting how Davis designed a simple five-chord structure for musicians to explore with minimal obstruction. The band was probably best during this tune, quite aware it was their moment to venture technically and emotionally. Botti, who references Davis a lot, ironically blows a full, fat, aggressive horn, rather than Davis’ muted, more subtle style.
Botti told us that the band was celebrating its 10th year of performing — 300 days a year.
Botti gave the spotlight to drummer Billy Kilson, his drummer of 10 years, toward the end of the night. Like most good drummers, he had a larger presence on stage during the show then merely the beat keeper, and when he finally got his solo time, he mesmerized the audience. Earlier in the night, Botti called Kilson out for being too loud; you quickly got the sense that this was routine shtick, and Botti was not really reprimanding him.
The show never fell into any kind of rhythm. It moved from trio to quartet to solo performances. Sy Smith later joined the band to sing a few songs. There was a brief round of straight-up swing — ahh, jazz — but it was fast and short. It’s worth noting that after college Botti played in Buddy Rich’s Big Band, but you can’t hear that influence in his music.
Botti dedicated the show to the 50th anniversary of the Golubs, playing the song “The Very Thought of You” for the couple. He walked down the aisle toward the back half of the theater to play at the couple’s seats. A woman came out of her seat to kiss Botti on the cheek while he played, prompting big applause.
It’s interesting that Botti has had the success that he does, given the subtle qualities of his music. While it doesn’t swing or contain the band-wide spontaneous interaction that jazz promotes, it does have subtle qualities that require a good ear to appreciate and enjoy. It’s far more genuine than the smooth jazz genre he’s often mistakenly boxed into.
In the end, his success, success by anyone’s measure, while not bountiful as pop stars like Paul Simon and Sting, both whom he has played with, is off the charts for a guy on a trumpet striving for serious, new sounds.