Chris Botti with his jazz trumpet and still a funny Valentine, opened Tuesday in San Francisco on another “Impressions” tour, this time playing at Miner Hall of SFJazz instead of Davies Symphony Hall down the block as he did in December of 2013. As the song goes, ‘Hallelujah’. You know what they say about first impressions. So, this time promised to sound romantic, upbeat, entrancing, vibrant if not captivating, with talents coming and going from the stage for a solid two hours with no intermission. Everybody but the keyboardist Andy Ezrin got a solo, down to the bass player with an attitude Richie Goods. Seriously, he travels with some world class companions.
Botti is that much a gentleman, as much a producer as an astute artist who knows that art often comes from mutual trust, synergy and chemistry not the lack of it. He made running jokes about being a diva. Unfortunately while Botti always signs CDs and seems wonderfully approachable and modest, particularly with young musicians, his merchandise failed to arrive in time for opening night so there were no photo ops or chances to meet him face to face. Still, Miner Hall is so wonderful a venue one sees Botti’s fingering on the keys easily.
Related: Botti brings ‘Impressions’ tour to Davies Symphony Hall 2013
Botti showed his characteristic range and versatility, articulation, a romantic with charm and wit. He remains a collaborator and his touring musicians differ from those in the 2012 studio recording of his Grammy winning CD for best pop instrumental, one of whom came from Dire Straits. Plot spoiler: Botti made some jokes about his mute getting so old and worn it fell out of his trumpet during a performance. He however remains in fine form, gleaming like polished brass, so he should use current photos of himself. A lot of his audience looked mature.
Botti remains a gentleman and a scholar, even in the midst of a globe spinning tour of 45 gigs in 70 days including Istanbul and Georgia. He may honor Miles Davis but he acts like Paul in the Beatles, he’s the businessman, well dressed, clean cut and well mannered, composed, distinguished. So, whether 100 yards from Davies Symphony Hall means uptown or down, this time Botti and his sextet and guests play nine times in a hall built for them, including twice on Friday, Saturday and on closing day, Sunday. He’s worth seeing more than once, particularly since opening night he presented a fairy nymph of a violinist, a ninety pound young woman named Sandy Cameron who leaves the thrilled audience asking where on Earth did she come from.
It’s Kashmir not Cashmere: Sandy Cameron
It was less the red and black tiger striped dress with the long vest and tuxedo tails that looked like black wings. It was less the wild natural black hair and lithe bare arms or even the ballet flats and stances or the way she danced before Botti. He said to the audience that he asked her to prepare a solo and she broke into Led Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir’. That’s what Botti quipped with satisfaction about the musician he said he had only met two hours before. That’s what patron Ken Moller clarified after this blogger posted a note on Facebook about how the diminutive young woman in tiger stripes burst into the song ‘Cashmere’ during a jazz show.
Prior, she played with a Spanish sound then transformed into a gypsy as Botti moved through his wordless musical introduction, transitioning from a lullaby into something spellbinding, majestic and regal. He tangoed then started rocking with his guitarist Ben Butler putting down the acoustic and picking up the electric He continued the intro without speaking, with a mystique, although his third song was ‘When I Fall in Love, It Will be Forever’. Note usually Botti performs with violinist Caroline Campbell. She’s a statuesque and elegant, model perfect blond.
Old friends tenor George Komsky of Danville; and soprano Sy Smith
Botti brought with him again a stunning singer Sy Smith, who sang a couple of 70s gems, taking Burt Bacharach and Al Green to enerjazzing heights. Plot spoiler: The tall and slender young soprano in a slinky gown of silver sparkles played with Botti, she full of animation and pretending to be a ditzy Diana Ross sort of mumbling as she bantered to the front rows. She lit up the house with ‘The Very Thought of You’, a high energy jazzier version with a rocking guitar and drums, compared to the intimate and quiet version Botti recorded with the earthy hippy Paula Cole. Cole graduated from UC Berkeley and went on to record ‘Where Have All the Cowboys Gone’ in the 90s.
Sy Smith sang ‘Let’s Stay Together’ and also sang ‘The Look of Love’, the latter with an upbeat tempo and soaring improvisation and embellishments and into a realm of notes not yet invented as she matched Botti’s trumpet note for note no matter how high. The bass player switched to bass guitar for her. Botti also brought with him again the dashing young tenor George Komsky, who sang a spot on ‘Time to Say Goodbye’, one of Botti’s collaborations with Andrea Bocelli. The dapper and polished Komsky comes from our very own Danville in Contra Costa, in the foothills of Mt. Diablo. He is operatically trained to say the least and lives in Los Angeles.
Lee Pearson, the tall and strong drummer in a bowtie, got his solo and roused the audience with his energy and clowning, getting funky and dexterious with some cool moves. Given such antics and the constant changes of talents on stage and in the spotlight, the show moves along fast and smooth, even with Botti giving three encores. He ends on a clean, clear, intimate note, alone on stage with just his piano player Geoffrey Keezer, closing with his ‘Funny Valentine’, a perfect choice.
Tickets range from $55 to $130 . Patrons may purchase adult beverages at the bars on the ground or second floor and take drinks into the theater. There’s even a cocktail table with bar stools at the top level of the theater. Miner Hall features a balcony, outdoors near the bar. Miner Hall is an easy walk from Civic Center BART, where bicyclists may lock bikes in the new bike cage. For more information: SFJazz.