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Popular Brilliance: Chris Botti

January 16, 2010

Chris Botti

The secret to the Boston Pops’ success has always been a populist platform backed by technical brilliance. Given the high level of musicianship among the performers, even the most tread-worn pieces take on new artistic meaning.

The same might be said of Chris Botti, who coincidentally has recorded with the Boston Pops. Botti has cast his considerable trumpet skills in a populist vein, bridging genres between jazz, classical music and even “popera” – the confluence of popular music and opera – to create a greater accessibility for a wide variety of audience members.

How many jazz trumpeters, after all, have started their show with Franz Schubert’s “Ave Maria,” holding a sustained high C note for nearly 30 seconds? That was Botti’s introduction to Madison audiences January 14 when his quintet fronted the Madison Symphony Orchestra at Overture Hall. By the end of the two-hour performance the majority of the 1,800 audience members, many of whom bobbed like yo-yos in their frequent standing ovations, appeared well-satisfied.

Botti’s backup band, which for this date included Eau Claire native Geoffrey Keezer on piano, can cut a tight, blues-laced rhythm even without MSO’s backing under the baton of Timothy Muffitt, Botti’s traveling conductor. There were moments during the evening, in fact, where the orchestra’s complement added little to the proceedings. At other times, MSO members sat idle, some of them looking bored as the band cut loose on songs like Miles Davis’ “Flamenco Sketches.”

Eventually MSO members warmed up to the proceedings, however, and by the end of the evening appeared to thoroughly enjoy themselves. Botti pronounced the orchestra “fantastic”; it’s unfortunate that he wasn’t able to see what Madison’s finest can really do when they really cut loose.

The evening’s playlist tread heavily on the slower, more romantic pieces that allowed Botti to showcase his superior control and long, almost languid musical measures. Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” Nat King Cole’s “When I Fall in Love,” and Burt Bacharach’s “The Look of Love,” which featured guest vocalist Sy Smith, were extremely well conceived and executed.

The romance came to a head with “Emmanuel,” Botti’s duet with violinist Lucia Micarelli, a lovely, lush musical exchange that alone may have been worth the price of admission. Micarelli, barefoot and in a shimmering, revealing gown, came back later to perform the love theme from “Cinema Paradiso” with equal aplomb.

Botti’s band, comprised of guitarist Mark Whitfield, bassist Timothy Lefebvre and drummer Billy Kilson in addition to Keezer, was finally allowed to cut loose on the closing number, “Indian Summer.” The extended jam allowed Lefebvre a long vamp on the familiar bass line from Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” that admittedly few among the older crowd recognized. Kilson’s drumming reached a fever pitch and nearly brought down the house.

But this was Botti’s show, and the trumpeter’s encore ended the show by turning Overture Hall into a “dingy saloon” and performing an accoustic duet with pianist Keezer on the Frank Sinatra standard, “One for My Baby (And One More for the Road).”

Botti left Indiana University during his fourth year when he was invited to tour with Sinatra, and he never went back. That’s another contribution to popular music for which we have Old Blue Eyes to thank.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 2, 2010 6:12 pm

    what a great site and informative posts, I will add a backlink and bookmark your site. Keep up the good work!

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    • Mike and Jean permalink
      February 11, 2010 11:52 pm

      Thanks, Frank. We appreciate your reading and commenting. We will do out best to continue meeting your standards.

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