The first thing that struck me when we entered the auditorium (slightly late, as we'd not realized the venue was different from the normal schedule) was that the music I could hear through the doors into the lobby was not the type of music I was in the mood to hear. It was that mind-numbing kind of pseudo-jazz that you would expect from Yanni, except with trumpet substituted for sax. The music faded, there was applause, and we slipped into our seats.
The first thing I saw, however, was the enthusiasm and talent of the musicians playing on stage - a pianist, a guitarist, a drummer and guy on double bass - arranged in a comfortable semicircle in front of the (as yet) silent orchestra. Chris and his trumpet had been sidelined for the moment to allow a funky, almost reggae style beat play host to an incredible piano solo. The four piece band played with a fervor and synergy that I haven't seen in a long while. The piece ended, more applause, and the trumpet-toting Botti once again took center stage. He took the opportunity to tell a slightly amusing story introducing his pianist, who turned out to be the multiple-Grammy-award-winning Guggenheim fellowship winner Billy Childs. Oh, good, I thought to myself. More than one band member has been nominated for a Grammy. So this should be pretty good, I figured. I was wrong.
The next piece, whatever the hell it was, featured a supremely talented jazz quartet and the boring, uninspired, three-bar-long solos of trumpeter Chris Botti.
Aside from his irritating habit of dropping names left and right (oh, yes, I'm sure Sting is a good friend of yours, and that Mik Jagger and Steven Tyler appreciate your subtle talent) and his nomination by People Magazine as one of the top 100 beautiful people in 2004 or whenever it was, the band leader had really nothing to speak of which warranted the attention he was getting. While his technical skill may have been above average, his musical talent was definitely lacking, and he brought down the rest of his band. Improvisations were short, often stolen (note for note copies of Miles Davis could be heard), and never elaborated. I'm not trying to say that he was bad - it's not that. But it's akin to reading the dictionary. It's not wrong, per se, but it sure as hell isn't a very good story. The whole thing reminded me a bit of high school; I knew talented musicians in high school, and I also knew musicians who got far more attention than they deserved. Chris Botti falls into the latter category. He is the reason jokes about trumpet players are funny. How many trumpeters does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Just one - he holds the bulb and the world revolves around him.
To ice the cake, the encore - deserved by the band, not by their leader - was not one, not two, but THREE slow, saccharin, depressing ballads. As we learned in De-Lovely, "never open on a ballad, never end on one either." Nothing up-tempo to send you home snapping your fingers. Poor choice.
All in all, the night wasn't unpleasant, but the headliner was hardly worth the publicity. His band, on the other hand, lived up to their forebears: Miles Davis, Gene Krupa, Herbie Hancock.
Though it could have been worse. It could have been tonight's "Spring Baroque" concert. And as we all know, if it isn't baroque, don't fix it.