STUNNING LINCOLN CENTER CONCERT LAUNCHES FIFTH WEILL SEASON
by Philip Beard
Saturday, October 01, 2016
Happy times in a packed Weill Hall Oct. 1: The insouciant, irrepressible, immensely talented trumpeter / bandleader Wynton Marsalis and his powerful, polished Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra opened Weill’s fifth season with a superb program of jazz classics and classics-to-be that set a high bar for t...
LATE BEETHOVEN EXPLORED AT MMF CONCERT IN PRESTON HALL
by Paula Mulligan
Thursday, July 21, 2016
The Mendocino Music Festival performance in Preston Hall July 22 was titled “Late Beethoven,” and was the final presentation in the tribute to the composer that was part of this year’s Festival. Pianist Susan Waterfall has been giving a series of lecture dealing with Beethoven’s life and music, and...
ANGUISH AND TRIUMPH IN MENDOCINO FESTIVAL'S BIG TENT
by Kayleen Asbo
Sunday, July 10, 2016
The Mendocino Music Festival is highlighting Beethoven this summer, and July 10’s program in the tent could have appropriately borrowed the subtitle from Jan Swafford’s 2014 biography of the composer, Anguish and Triumph
The Festival’s second classical concert paired two Beethoven works wit...
ARCANE ARENSKY TRIO HIGHLIGHTS NAVARRO'S SEASON OPENING CONCERT IN SCHROEDER
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, October 04, 2015
One would have thought that the glitz surrounding Lang Lang’s 101 Pianists Foundation program Oct. 4 in Weill would have upstaged chamber music at the same time in nearby Schroeder Hall. Not to worry, as the Trio Navarro continues to perform sometimes-neglected gems from the trio literature with a ...
TRUMPET ON FIRE
by Philip Beard
Friday, September 11, 2015
Chris Botti’s show at SSU’s Green Music Center Sept. 11 was a real barnburner. The highly acclaimed, much-traveled trumpeter--his group is on the road over 300 days a year, playing always to large audiences--was making his second appearance at Weill Hall and Lawn, two years after his sold-out first ...
GRAND GESTURES IN VIEAUX'S WEILL HALL GUITAR RECITAL
by Gary Digman
Friday, October 18, 2013
Weill Hall is an imposing building situated on the Sonoma State campus, and still has that “new car smell” about it. I was looking forward to hearing guitarist Jason Vieaux’s performance October 18, not only to hear the artist but to experience the acoustics of the hall about which I have been heari...
BOTTI'S BAND TRUMPETS HIGH-WIRE DERRING DO IN SUMMER-ENDING WEILL CONCERT
by Philip Beard
Sunday, August 25, 2013
No question about it: Weill Hall was the happening place to be on Aug. 25 with trumpeter Chris Botti and his entourage delivering two and a half hours of jazzy, rocky, funky, high-wire derring-do to an audience that loved every minute of it. Almost.
The performance was stunning both figuratively an...
LATE WINTER TURNS TO SPRING IN CREATIVE ARTS SERIES CONCERT
by Michael J. Mello
Sunday, February 24, 2013
A concert of Renaissance and Celtic songs for voice, lute and recorder was presented by soprano and lutenist Doris Williams with the assistance of recorder virtuoso Claudia Liliana Gantivar and mandolinist Mike Bell. The Feb. 24 event in Santa Rosa’s Resurrection Parish Church was part of the Creat...
MESSIAEN PIANO PRELUDES HIGHLIGHT SMITH RECITAL IN SANTA ROSA
by Beth Zucchino
Sunday, January 27, 2013
Marin Pianist Jean Alexis Smith played a stunning recital Jan. 27 in the first 2013 concert for the Creative Arts Series. In remarks to the Resurrection Parish audience, the pianist explained that although her program has a range of styles from Baroque to Contemporary, all the composers involved wr...
TANAKA PLAYS AUTHORATIVE MOZART IN CREATIVE ARTS SERIES FORTEPIANO RECITAL
by Richard Wayland
Sunday, April 29, 2012
A pleasant surprise greeted me April 29 when I attended a fortepiano recital at Resurrection Parish in Santa Rosa. The venue was simple, modern, beautiful, and seating was comfortable. The décor reminded me of Pi, a Parisian artist of the fifties.
The performer for the season’s final Creative A...
Trumpeter Chris Botti
TRUMPET ON FIRE
by Philip Beard
Friday, September 11, 2015
Chris Botti’s show at SSU’s Green Music Center Sept. 11 was a real barnburner. The highly acclaimed, much-traveled trumpeter--his group is on the road over 300 days a year, playing always to large audiences--was making his second appearance at Weill Hall and Lawn, two years after his sold-out first visit.
Some things change, some don’t. The big change this time was the stage. Weill Hall has invested God knows how much in a sumptuous array of floor-to-ceiling curtains and lights and gadgets that turn the stage into a cabaret on steroids for correspondingly oriented groups--rock/pop, amplified--and their presumably large audiences. Setting the array up and tearing it down for smaller-draw acoustic events are surely prodigious technical feats in themselves.
Effects include multi-hued floodlight washes over the back curtain, ranging from subtle to garish; flickering, dancing light patterns evidently intended to evoke moods matching the number being played (think fluttering leaves in an aspen forest); occasional bright lights aimed smack into the audience’s eyes; and a mist machine that sent up an evanescent fog into the backlit celestial regions of the set all concert long (to evoke nostalgia for smoke-filled nightspots?). All very impressive if that’s what turns your crank.
There, I’ve betrayed my anti-jumbo bias. Sorry, but it borders on sacrilegious to gussy up a world-renowned acoustical masterpiece like Weill Hall to accommodate the mega-amped productions that the venue’s current managers evidently favor. No doubt they’ll defend their bias in the name of “what the public wants to hear.” Fair enough; it’s tough to argue against near-sellout crowds. But tasteful? No.
Onward to the far more enjoyable topic of what hasn’t changed. That would be Chris Botti’s stunning show, in many ways a carbon copy of the group’s offering of two years ago. As I revisit my review of that concert, I’m struck by the close match between my impressions then and now. So, full disclosure: The following remarks occasionally crib from that piece.
The three best-dressed people in the hall were Botti himself, in a plain black suit with black tie, and his two female sidekicks, violinist Caroline Campbell in a slinky red gown and vocalist Sy Smith in a lovely patterned satin halter-top dress. The band was filled out by Andy Ezrin on keyboards, Lee Pearson on drums, pianist Geoffrey Keezer, Ben Butler on guitar, Richie Goods on upright and electric bass, and tenor vocalist George Komsky. Illustrious performers all.
The concert began with an unnamed ballad that set the default tone for the evening: Botti introducing the theme with his rich, honest trumpet sound, joined in duet by Campbell’s sinuous violin. After a couple of choruses the band chimed in with shimmering background chords and rustling snare brushes under soaring lyrical solos from the two principals.
Botti plays with an adjustable mike that produces a darker, more flügel-like quality the farther he bends it into the bell of his horn. Campbell’s amplification spectrum includes a low register that sounds like a herd of cellos, incongruous coming from this single violin, but effective in its own gutsy, boomy way. The number ended on a very soft, very high, perfectly in-tune trumpet note that Botti held for longer than seemed humanly possible. No, he was not circular breathing. This prodigious breath control is clearly a Botti trademark.
The uncomfortably high decibel level noted in 2013 was augmented this time by a yet more pronounced reverb effect, arguably beneficial in setting the intended smoky mood but occasionally blurring the soloists’ soft, quick passage work and homogenizing their individuality.
The group moved to an upbeat bossa-nova-style rendition of the ballad “If I Fall in Love,” full of fast runs, jazz licks, rips, and alternate-fingered tremolos. For you non-brass players, that’s a note repeatedly slurred to itself using a different valve combination. Another breathtaking high-note flourish ended the piece. After the next offering, a heavy-drummed funk number featuring a flashy solo by Geoffrey Keezer, Botti spoke to the audience for the first time. He immediately engaged them with his easy repartee, delivering the obligatory encomium to the hall (the “Tanglewood of the West Coast,” by his telling), and schmoozing with some young musicians sitting at the front of the audience. His stage presence was articulate, humorous, warm.
The concert progressed without intermission through an excitingly varied sequence of numbers encompassing Latin salsa, Motown funk (vocalist Sy Smith scatting high and fast), slinky ballads ŕ la Andrew Lloyd Webber, homages to Botti’s early inspiration Miles Davis, Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” pop standards like “The Very Thought of You,” a couple of Andrea Bocelli songs--a versatile mix, and all played from memory.
Brilliant solos abounded. Keezer’s brilliant piano improvisations stood out all evening. Tenor George Komsky showed off his Bocelli-esque pipes adequately. Drummer Lee Pearson played a ten-minute tour de force that saw him shedding his jacket while continuing to whack away, switching to conga-style hits, including barehanded cymbal crashes, whipping blindly around all his drums and cymbals with his face covered by a towel. This was immensely crowd-pleasing.
Most impressive of all, though, was violinist Caroline Campbell’s solo fantasia--full of double stops, lickety-split arpeggios and harmonic overtones--that established her credentials as a serious crossover violinist equally at home in the classical and pop/rock worlds. By the time the band joined in, switching to a hard-beat Led Zeppelin standard, she was flinging her long blond tresses all over the stage, sawing away like a woman possessed. She earned the loudest standing ovation of the evening, engendering Botti’s laconic remark “Bet you weren’t expecting that.”
A nice counterpoint to all the musical pyrotechnics was Botti’s folksy interplay with the audience. At one point he and Smith left the stage and moved slowly out to the lawn, jamming and serenading all the way, regaling aisle sitters with up-close personality, encouraging them to take pictures. Pausing at one point next to two empty seats, he quipped, “They held these ones for Donald Trump.” Supply your own exegesis. Then they walked back down to the stage, riffing/scatting back and forth, dueling with their respective high-range light swords, enjoying themselves mightily, and reveling in the adoration.
As a trumpet player, Botti richly deserves his star status and he has obviously worked hard to achieve it. His tone is straightforward and honest, employing only a bare minimum of occasional vibrato. Though he lacks the booming low register and the high-range dexterity of an Arturo Sandoval, or the tonguing/breathing pyrotechnics of a Wynton Marsalis, his attacks are clean and accurate, his high notes fat, secure, and in tune, and his breath control stupendous. Arguably the most successful brass instrumentalist of our times, he stands out for his easy, clever patter and his and his band’s sheer longevity, almost as much as for their technical prowess.
The continued popularity of Botti and his band leads one to expect they’ll keep it going for many more years. While the amped-up rock-concert-cum-light-show effects are decidedly not this reviewer’s cup of tea, Botti and his top-flight companions certainly command our respect and admiration. Now if they would only use their stature to help lead pop music away from its over-reliance on manufactured effects. One can dream, right?
Mark Wardlaw and Scott Nygard contributed to this review.