October 22, 2023
Trumpet virtuoso Chris Botti
had much to celebrate last Sunday at his Paramount Theater concert. He recently turned 61, and his first album in 10 years was released on Friday, Chris Botti Vol 1
(Blue Note Records). These two joyous events elevated the Grammy Award winner to present a mesmerizing evening for his receptive audience.
It's been 20 years since Botti made a concert stop in Denver, and this time around, he brought an amazing quartet featuring Lee Pearson
(drums), Dan Chmielinski
(bass/synthesizer), Ben Butler
(guitar), and Julian Waterfall Pollack
(piano/keys). Special guests included violinist Ania Filochowska, neo-soul singer Sy Smith
, and indie pop singer John Splithoff, who is featured on Botti's new release.
The evening's setlist drew mainly from Botti's new album and opened with a beautiful rendition of the traditional Irish melody "Danny Boy." Botti and Pollack began by trading leads. Botti's horn had the right amount of reverb on it, transforming the historic theater into almost haunting cathedral-like acoustics. The talented Ania Filochowska entered the stage in a glittering gown to join Pollack and Botti on "Cinema Paradiso."
The Polish-born violinist began to play at the age of six and later studied under Maestro Itzhak Perlman at Julliard. Later in the show, Filochowska and Botti performed in the theater's aisles, giving the audience an up-close treat.
Botti paid tribute to Tony Bennett
with an up-tempo version of "You Don't Know What Love Is," a song the two played together in 2018 when Bennett received the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.
This was the first time the audience witnessed the powerful band Botti brought with him. Over the course of this 13-minute version, Chmielinski demonstrated his talents on upright bass while Pearson blew the audience away with his smoking drum solo. He also threw in some shtick with his sticks, tossing them high in the air so they landed behind him. And he was later playing a one-handed solo with a towel covering his face while balancing one stick on his head.
Botti turned over the spotlight to vocalist Sy Smith for the next two numbers. Smith has been performing for over a decade with five solo albums under her belt. In her segment, she gave us a jazzy, up-tempo take on "Feeling Good," the classic made famous by Nina Simone
, but with a twist.
"When I was growing up, I wanted to be a hip-hop DJ and not a singer," revealed Smith. "But mother said, 'No!'" Smith asked the audience to allow her to pretend to be a DJ while she repeated the hooks in "Feeling Good." "B-b-b-birds flying high"slowing it down and speeding it up like it was on a virtual turntable, complete with hand gestures. While this technique may have worked for some in the crowd, most were there to hear the standards played in a traditional style. Smith was at her best when she hit and held those high notes à la Minnie Riperton.
Next, Botti brought out New York-based singer/songwriter John Splithof for two songs, "Raye" and "Paris," the first single from Botti's new album. Splithof admitted that he's only been to Paris
once and wrote the piece in anticipation of going there. The actual experience was less enchanting. "There's a thing called Paris Syndrome where you are so stoked to go, but when you get there, it totally sucks," lamented Splithof. Losing his wallet made that a reality.
Botti and all his guests closed the show with a rousing rendition of Earth, Wind & Fire's "Shining Star." The trumpeter returned to the stage for a two-song encore, and with "What a Wonderful World," he had the audience turn on their cell phones' flashlights, sway their arms to the beat, and sing along. Drummer Lee Pearson surprised us with spot-on Louis Armstrong
vocal interpretation. Let's hope Botti and crew don't wait so long before returning to Denver.
Danny Boy; Cinema Paradiso (Ennio Morricone cover); When I Fall in Love (Victor Young and His Orchestra cover); You Don't Know What Love Is (Carol Bruce cover); Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered; In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning (Frank Sinatra cover); Feeling Good (Nina Simone cover); My Funny Valentine (Rodgers & Hart cover); Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen cover); Paris; Raye; Shining Star (Earth, Wind & Fire cover).
Are You Lonesome Tonight? (Elvis Presley cover); What a Wonderful World (Louis Armstrong cover).
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