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Chamber
FLORESTAN TRIO'S MENDELSSOHN AT SPRING LAKE VILLAGE CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Friday, March 08, 2019
Spring Lake Village’s monthly concerts usually clock in under an hour, but the March 8 Florestan Trio’s performance was more extended as so much good music was on tap for the 125 residents attending at Santa Rosa’s premiere retirement residence facility. Four short pieces made up the first half, be...
Chamber
TILDEN TRIO'S BOHEMIAN ENERGY AT DOMINICAN CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 03, 2019
Hard on the heels of the Trio Navarro’s late February concert in Sonoma State’s Schroeder Hall, Northern California’s other premiere resident piano trio, the Tilden, played an equally convincing program March 3 in Dominican University’s Angelico Hall. Clearly each hall’s acoustics, stage pianos and...
Recital
24 SONGS IN A MENKE-THOMPSON RECITAL ODYSSEY
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, February 23, 2019
Sonoma County pop and country singing enjoys continued popularity but it rare to see a professional classical vocal concert announced. Diva Ruth Ann Swenson was once a local star, but she has long departed and not much virtuoso recital singing can be found in the North Bay. But the exception to th...
Chamber
UNEXPECTED ARENSKY AND MENDELSSOHN BY THE NAVARRO
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 17, 2019
The 100 people entering Schroeder Hall Feb. 17 for a Trio Navarro concert were handed a program that appeared to feature two popular piano trios, Mendelssohn and Arensky. But continuing the Navarro’s tradition of repertoire exploration, the pieces were not the usual first Mendelssohn and first Aren...
Recital
GLOVER'S ECLECTIC PROGRAMMING HIGHLIGHT'S CINNABAR RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 17, 2019
Daniel Glover is arguably the busiest virtuoso pianist in the San Francisco Bay area, but rarely is heard in North Bay concerts. So 90 local pianophiles were anxious to hear him Feb. 17 in Petaluma’s charming small Cinnabar Theater, and they were rewarded with an eclectic program of sometimes unfam...
Symphony
MENDELSSOHN'S SCOTTISH SAVES THE EVENING IN SRS WEILL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Monday, February 11, 2019
The audience entering Weill Hall for Santa Rosa Symphony concerts Feb. 9-11 were presented with a program that on first glance appeared a curious patchwork – a great symphony mixed with a seldom heard concerto and two disparate overtures, and a guest conductor unknown locally. Monday night’s concer...
Recital
INTRIGUING BELL-HAYWOOD RECITAL BEFORE FULL HOUSE IN WEILL HALL
by Abby Wasserman
Friday, February 08, 2019
A big portion of the capacity audience in Weill Hall February 8th came to hear violinist Joshua Bell’s virtuosity, and were treated as well to splendid playing from Sam Haywood, Mr. Bell’s regular pianist since 2010. The duo performed three engaging sonatas, highlighted by Mr. Bell’s sterling techn...
Symphony
TRIPLE PLAY UKIAH SYMPHONY CONCERT AND TCHAIKOVSKY SERENADE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, January 27, 2019
Over the years the Ukiah Symphony’s concerts have been in the Classical Sonoma Calendar sections, but rarely has this Orchestra, now in its 39th season, had a full winter season concert review. The provocative Jan. 27 program in Mendocino College’s Center Theater seemed a good reason to reacquaint ...
Symphony
JACKSON THEATER WELCOMES A NEW RESIDENT ORCHESTRA
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, January 26, 2019
Moving to a permanent new performance venue can be a perilous undertaking for an orchestra, with different acoustics, the loyal audience finding the new spot and infrastructure challenges of lighting and lobby and backstage operations. In their first concert Jan. 26 in Windsor’s Jackson Theater the...
Symphony
ECLECTIC PASSIONATE PROGRAMMING AT MARIN SYMPHONY CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Saturday, January 26, 2019
The Marin Symphony’s second Masterworks concert of the 2018-19 season featured works by John Adams, Sibelius and Brahms, a masterful assembly. In a spoken introduction before the program’s first half, conductor Alasdair Neale primed the audience for the “terra incognita” of Adams’ The Chairman Dance...
CHAMBER REVIEW
Chris Botti Jazz Band / Sunday, August 12, 2018
Chris Botti, trumpet. Musicians TBA

Trumpter Chris Botti

EXTRAVAGANT FUSION OF STYLES AT CHRIS BOTTI BAND WEILL HALL CONCERT

by Jerry Dibble
Sunday, August 12, 2018

Trumpeter Chris Botti still performs in jazz venues including SF Jazz and The Blue Note, but now appears mostly in cavernous halls or on outdoor stages like the Sonoma State University’s Green Music Center. He brought his unique road show to the packed Weill Hall August 12 in a concert of effusive energy but only sporadic elegance.

Mr. Botti has said unabashedly that the gauge of success for him is the ability to wow an audience: “When the promoter wants you back, that’s what I keep my eye on. All the other stuff is fly by night. When you go see a concert, you want to have your head blown off. You want to see or feel something you’re not going to see or feel anywhere else. I’ve never had a hit song, ever. Nobody could whistle a Chris Botti song, but I’ve made it a priority to win people over, and I do that, one show at a time.” Judged by that standard, his show was a roaring success, as the terraced lawn outside the open doors at the rear of the hall was also full. I was seated inside and the audience smiled, tapped feet and bobbed heads through more than two hours of music without an intermission. They also gasped with appreciation, applauded loudly, and rewarded impressive solo performances with standing ovations.

If there was any disappointment for the crowd-pleasing Botti, it must have been that much of the audience left between the last number and the single encore. Perhaps that was understandable, since the average age of the audience in the main hall was at least 60, the concert was long and it was getting late.

I last heard Mr. Botti on tour at SF Jazz five years ago, and his band’s personnel has changed since then, as has its repertoire and its approach to the music. For example, several of the dewy-eyed, smooth jazz ballads from Mr. Botti’s early career were still on this program, but only as shadows of their former selves. An updated version of When I Fall in Love, the second tune on the program, began with a soft rock introduction, followed by a characteristic but skillful balladic rendering of the melody from Mr. Botti that gave way after eight bars to a farrago of tempos and feels, from high energy rock to salsa jazz. Next, introducing the group’s rendition of You Don’t Know What Love is, a long-time staple of the trumpeter’s repertoire, he promised to “play a jazz standard for about a minute, then the drummer’s going to drive the band off a cliff.” It was a suicidal exercise that he aided and abetted by doubling and redoubling the tempo at the end of the first chorus.

And finally, as an encore, the group offered The Nearness of You, another smooth jazz ballad from an early Botti album, but here given a funky, two-beat treatment, at a tempo the group doubled twice before the end of the tune.

In between, there were substantial parts for various members of the band, including three vocalists, and they were sometimes accompanied by Mr. Botti, sometimes alone or with other members of the ensemble. Pianist Eldar Djangirov played Variations on Bach’s Prelude in C-Sharp Major, a dazzling fusion of classical and jazz playing; Caroline Campbell, a long-time band member, contributed a violin extravaganza that found her not merely adding drama and expression (like most violin soloists) with flopping hair and impressively flashy bow work, but dancing and twirling across the stage then falling to her knees, with her head thrown back and her violin pointed to the sky, as she played on. Flashing strobe lights and artificial smoke added drama, if more was needed. And finally, Brazilian guitarist Leonardo Amuedo, drummer Lee Pearson, and bassist Richie Goods each had their turn as well, as did singers Sy Smith, Jonathan Johnson, and Veronica Swift. The last sang There Will Never Be Another You at breakneck speed and Embraceable You at a more relaxed tempo.

But at the end of the evening it was still unclear what glue, if any, held the music together. Mr. Botti has said that one of his job as a leader is “to put together a Rubik’s Cube of all-star musicians.” It is a difficult metaphor. Surely, the job of the leader is not merely to assemble musicians but to solve the Rubik’s cube by aligning the different colors and elements so they form a coherent whole.

The driving force behind the performance seemed much more an admiration for awe-inspiring energy and technical skill than a common agreement about the emotional value of sonic depth and subtlety of expression. My colleague Philip Beard commented in a previous Botti band review on the excessively high volume levels in the hall, but volume adds energy, of course, as do jaw-dropping pyrotechnics--long, unbroken strings of sixteenth and thirty second notes, multi-octave chromatic runs and false-fingered tremolos. And so too does extensive use of heavily amplified digital instruments in place of the more subtle, timbre-rich sounds of acoustic ones.

Each of the supporting musicians in the concert had both kinds of instruments on stage and played them at some point in the concert. But Mr. Botti himself has long performed with an electronic pickup clipped to the bell of his horn, the output amplified and enhanced with reverberation. Unless you have heard trumpet soloists like Maurice Andre, Bud Herseth, Wynton Marsalis and Roy Hargrove in person, it’s hard to explain what is lost when the natural resonance and timbre of the instrument and the player’s physical relationship to the horn is washed out by electronics.

The same thing is true of the differences between acoustic and electric bass, acoustic pianos and electronic synthesizers, and heavily miked bass drums and snares and the naturally balanced sound of a drum set. Not just in relationship to acoustics, but in other respects, less is often more in music, and it would have been nice to see more spaces between phrases, more dynamic range, more reflective and less notey improvised lines, and more careful listening and interaction among the members of the group, even during solos. As things stood, it was an impressive concert but not one for those with especially seasoned and sensitive ears.