Tom Ross: Chris Botti pushes limits of soft jazz at Strings show |

Tom Ross: Chris Botti pushes limits of soft jazz at Strings show

Tom Ross

— It was with great anticipation that we set out Friday night for the Strings Music Pavilion and a night of mellow contemporary jazz built around Chris Botti's plush trumpet solos. But a different Chris Botti from the musician on the recordings showed up at Strings, and what we got was even better than his best-selling soft jazz albums.

Botti blew the Strings audience away with an energized two-hour set that saw the artist playing improvisational solos in the style of Miles Davis while he pushed his band to experiment with classical and pop styles.

They performed Chopin (Interlude in C Minor) and the Michael Jackson and R. Kelly pop hit "You Are Not Alone."

Botti's trademark contemplative solos that seem to take listeners to a lonely place were abundant Friday night, but without warning, he would bend his knees and unleash a series of minor volcanic eruptions that shook up the ensemble.

And there were guest artists, including a young, classically trained violinist named Arianna Solange Warsaw-Fan, who had just joined the band during that evening's sound check, and the veteran vocalist Lisa Fischer, who has toured extensively with the Rolling Stones. Fischer's multioctave voice stood out on Burt Bacharach's familiar "The Look of Love."

The question underlying the evening's music seemed to be, "How far can we push this thing?"

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The show was built on the foundation of a hard-charging rhythm section that challenged the soloists. The soloists included four-time Grammy-winning jazz pianist Billy Childs and Brazilian guitarist Leonardo Amuedo. Childs and Amuedo achieved a new level of fusion between the Steinway grand piano and amplified nylon-stringed guitar, the former evoking the L.A. club scene and the latter sprinkling in finger-picked riffs from Ipanema.

Bassist Tim Lefebvre and drummer Billy Kilson behaved themselves and were content to noodle in the background when that's what the music called for. But when Botti set the dogs loose, they were rough and ready to lay down a rock beat.

Speaking of rock beats, Botti, who displays an easy affability on stage, asked early in the concert for any young musicians in the audience to stand up and introduce themselves. He expressed amazement when only one boy, a 14-year-old drummer named Miles, responded. Near the end of the show, he delighted the audience by inviting Miles to come on stage and sat him down behind Kilson's drum kit.

Botti instructed Miles (sorry, I couldn't catch up with him afterward to get his last name) to play a soft cymbal roll late in the song, and then turn it loose at the end.

Surprisingly composed, Miles did his thing and was rewarded with wild applause.

Strings will continue to blaze through its 25th anniversary program Friday with an already sold-out performance by k.d. lang and the Siss Boom Bang. Watch for lawn seating to become available this week, and grab a ticket if you can.

And Miles, if you're reading this, get in touch so we can get you some proper publicity. Maybe we'll jam.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email

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