Chris Botti – Live @ Blue Note Jazz Club
aaamusic | On 02, Jan 2017
Thursday 23rd December, New York City
Chris Botti’s 12th annual holiday residency at the Blue Note Jazz Club has become its own little tradition over time. “We’ve been coming here for the past five years!” confirms a man seated in front of me at the end of the concert, a wide smile on his lips and stars in his eyes.
At the historic sit-down venue of the Blue Note in New York City, Chris Botti is wearing the usual black tie and suit. Yet the world-renowned trumpeter interacts constantly with the audience throughout the evening. It is the kind of good-natured vibe that comes with habit: as Botti says himself, “coming to the Blue Note for as many years as I’ve been is like coming home.” This year’s residency runs from December 12, 2016 to January 8, 2017.
He starts off smoothly with the quiet ‘Gabriel’s Oboe’, accompanied by the talented Sandy Cameron at the violin, and Ben Stivers giving a string ensemble-like background on the keyboards, reminiscent of 90s Italian pop music. Next comes ‘Concierto De Aranjuez’ (or ‘En Aranjuez Con Tu Amor’), continuing in the same vibe emphasizing atmosphere over technique – with a Latin touch by Ben Butler on the guitar.
Next, their performance of the upbeat ‘Regroovable’ from the album Midnight Without You, has an electric guitar kick and Geoffrey Keezer on the piano. The band experiments on some more modern jazz elements and deconstructed melodies, before going back to the comfortable happy atmosphere of the beginning. The audience is getting really hyped and starts clapping their hands – Keezer and drummer Lee Pearson work very well together and daze everyone with their deadly precision, like two perfectly coordinated dancers.
After a break where Chris introduces the musicians, they move on to the quieter, more romantic ‘Emmanuel’, from his 2009 live album Chris Botti in Boston. Violin take-offs, crescendos and decrescendos, as well as the keyboard background all give that 90s romantic Italian feel again.
‘You Don’t Know What Love Is’ definitely has a more jazz standard sound, with a chilled double bass accompaniment by Richie Goods. Slow changes of moods occur against the album version, a little ‘Salt Peanuts’ reference makes its way out there, and the drum bass becomes a little more fast-paced. Pearson is now definitely the mood-maker here, people gasping at his spectacular gestures like hitting the bass drum from the other side of the drum set.
Then came the time of all-time favourite ‘My Funny Valentine’, without a clear beat and yet the trumpet and piano always knowing exactly where they are. Then they played ‘Hallelujah’ in the memory of late composer and interpreter Leonard Cohen, who passed away this year. Botti used the mute on this one, and the whole rendering of this track was very well done, delicate and dreamy, a very good and proper way to say farewell.
After another short break, Pearson gives a 5 to 10-min solo, which is definitely one of the big highlights of the night. It is the kind of improvisation that can appeal even to people who usually don’t like drum solos – like myself. He gives such an inspired, varied, original solo, yet structured and always with a regular beat. He slowly works his way back and forth between different styles, different rhythms and different tools – hands, sticks, mallets… Once again, the audience is hypnotized by his performance and energy.
Two singers also made their way to the scene during the second part of the concert: vocalist Sy Smith first enters from the side of the room, joining Botti playing among the audience for ‘The Very Thought of You’ and ‘The Look of Love’. She sings with a laser-like precision, and improvises on jazz as easily as you and I are breathing.
It is Sandy Cameron‘s turn to shine alone: she begins a solo with dark, almost medieval undertones – she sounds like a devilish bee, and sure enough she ends up quoting Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’. Only in her twenties, she has a very strong stage presence. The rest of the band finally joins for a unique rendering of Led Zeppelin‘s ‘Kashmir’, spreading quite an intense mood on stage.
Now, it’s time for a change of tone with tenor Rafael Moras from the LA Opera, joining on Francesco Sartori’s famous ‘Time to Say Goodbye (Con Te Partirò)’ ; as well as the classic ‘Nessun Dorma’ by Giacomo Puccini. This is all ear candy for the audience.
Then comes the grand finale featuring Sy Smith again: Al Green’s 1972 ‘Let’s Stay Together’, hyping up the room one last time, with electric guitar, dramatic lighting and so on, ending the whole show with a bang. The public is obviously pleased: mission accomplished, they’ll all have a merry Christmas.
- Gabriel’s Oboe
- Concierto De Aranjuez
- When I Fall in Love
- You Don’t Know What Love is
- Tango Suite
- For All We Know
- The Very Thought of You
- The Look of Love
- Kashmir (Violin Solo)
- Nessun Dorma
- Time to Say Goodbye