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Chris Botti Yoshi's San Francisco/Yoshi's Oakland January 23 and February 2 San Francisco's Fillmore District has re-emerged to claim its rightful status as the epicenter for jazz on the West Coast. This renaissance is thanks to the visionary owners of the Yoshi's enterprise in Oakland, California and now in San Francisco: Kaz Kajimura and Yoshi Akiba. A scene that was thought to be dying has been brought back to life. Trumpeter Chris Botti, who is currently touring to promote his release, Italia (Columbia, 2007), performed to a convivial audience on Wednesday January 23, hardly an unusual feat for an instrumentalist who is accustomed to selling out all venues, ranging from large amphitheatres to small intimate jazz clubs like Yoshi's and The Blue Note.
Patrons scurried to their seats for the 10 o'clock show, and if you looked carefully, you could recognize visionary producer Bobby Colomby in attendance to support Botti. The stage was set to showcase the leader's stellar talent and the equally capable band consisting of pianist Peter Martin, bassist Robert Hurst, guitarist Mark Whitfield and drummer Billy Kilson. This intimate venue is the ideal atmosphere to hear these outstanding musicians cast their melodic magic.
The band was in brazenly fierce form. The evening started with "When I Fall in Love," a brilliantly executed performance, highlighting each musician's improvisational prowess, each solo as riveting as the one preceding it. Next up was the Italian pop love song, "Caruso." For anyone familiar with the song's deeply romantic lyrics, Botti more than does them justice, managing to convey the same message instrumentally. Also performed that evening were "Flamenco Sketches," "A Thousand Kisses Deep," "Cinema Paradiso," and "Indian Summer." For an encore Botti evoked another Italian musician by the name of Sinatra by playing Harold Arlen's "One for My Baby."
The following week, on Saturday February 2, I was in attendance at Yoshi's in Oakland both to interview the superb drummer Billy Kilson and, of course, to catch a show before the band headed out to Seattle.
As to be expected, the set list showcased the deliciously tender and brooding tone of Botti's horn as well as the skill of his impressively seasoned band. When you attend a Chris Botti concert, one thing is certain: the experience will be different every time in that improvisation is assured with creative artists of this order, constantly keeping things fresh and interesting. With the listener the music resonates on a high ethereal frequency, accounting for its distinguishing quality. With the musicians the sounds come from an inspired place within each player and among the members of the ensemble, until a remarkable synergy is fashioned. As leader, Botti's charisma and generosity along with the level of camaraderie ensures that the best of each musician is showcased; each band member has an opportunity to shine.
The band communicates a melodious invitation, promising the listener that hearing their music again will be like the first time. The effect of their live performances on the listener is deep and lasting, a meditative quality attributable to melancholy beautiful melodies, strains capable of arousing, then transfixing, the inner awakenings of the soul. As enjoyable as the recordings are, they can't compare to the heightened experience of hearing the music live. To listen to their music on your stereo is more than pleasant, and to hear them live is melodic divinity .
As a kid, my mom told me I'd like jazz. I thought she was nuts. Then I went to hear Cannonball Adderley (with Nat Adderley, George Duke, Walter Booker, Roy McCurdy and Airto) and everything changed. Yeah, mom knows best.