The frigid weather didn’t keep people from turning out for the first night of Chris Botti’s first show in his multi-night stand at Jazz Alley in Seattle, which began January 14. The Grammy Award-winning trumpet player even joked that his manager had contacted him asking how he was holding up dealing with the snow (and, even worse, the slick ice) that had descended on the city. “I told him, ‘Dude — I’m from Oregon!’” That set the tone for an evening that felt as loose and relaxed as if you were hanging out at Botti’s home with a group of his friends.
Botti’s no stranger to Jazz Alley, which explains why he so clearly felt at home; even the brief absence of a working microphone during the first set was no problem. He headed up a nine-member band, including two singers, playing a mix of well-chosen covers and numbers from his own albums, including Impressions and When I Fall in Love.
It’s not easy to categorize Botti’s music. He’s considered a jazz musician, but while he does draw on the classic work of Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis, he’s also a fan of what he’s called “sophisticated popular music,” like that of Joni Mitchell, Sting, and Paul Simon (the latter two of whom he performed with before striking out on a solo career). So the second set included a lovely, delicate version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” just Botti and guitarist Leonardo Amuedo. There were also nods to the great American songbook: “Over the Rainbow.” Miles Davis’s “Blue in Green” (from his landmark Kind of Blue album) was another highlight.
The sets began with a dramatic flourish. “He always has the hot chick violinist,” the man sitting next to me, a business visitor from Dallas, informed me. “Always.” The “hot chick” in this case was Anastasiia Mazurok, from Russia, a recent replacement for Botti’s usual violinist who had sudden health issues that led to her needing a break. Mazurok, attired in sparkling silver, played with great warmth and sensitivity; at the conclusion of one number, she drew out the final note with spellbinding grace, making it quaver until it sounded like a theremin. Botti and Mazurok echoed each other’s melodic lines, creating music that was dreamy and spellbinding.
Botti took care to give every band member their moment in the spotlight; “My job is to play the trumpet and to be a curator of an all-star band,” he recently told the San Francisco Classical Voice. Lee Pearson, on drums, wowed the audience with his energetic solos, at one point throwing up his drumsticks and attacking his kit with his hands. Bassist Reggie Hamilton drew applause when he threw in a quick jam of “Purple Haze” in his solo spot during the first set. Holger Marjamaa and Chad Lefkowtiz-Brown were equally skillful on piano and saxophone, respectively. As the players soloed, Botti sat in a chair off to the side, enjoying the musicians as much as the audience.
Two singers also made appearances; Shayna Steele, performing “In the Wee Small Hours” and “Embraceable You,” and tenor Rafael Moras. Fine as they were, I would have preferred less singing and more Botti. Though Botti performed along with the singers, in such pair ups, the attention tends to focus on the vocalists — and I prefer to hear Botti’s smooth trumpet. Nonetheless, they each got great receptions from the audience.
The set closed with singing of a different sort. Botti announced that Pearson was going to perform his Louis Armstrong imitation, and so he did, sounding appropriately gravely on “What a Wonderful World,” with the audience invited to join in on the chorus. And then we got a bonus; with the snow forecast having resulted in some empty seats for the second set, everyone from the first set was invited to stay over. Botti’s Seattle appearance continues through January 19. Never mind the cold outside; this is a show that radiates plenty of warmth and good cheer.