LIVE: Chris Botti blows away Universal Preservation Hall 3/6/2020
Over the past three decades, Chris Botti has recorded and performed with the best in music, including Sting, Barbra Streisand, Tony Bennett, Lady Gaga, Josh Groban, Yo-Yo Ma, Michael Bublé, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, John Mayer, Andrea Bocelli, Joshua Bell, Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and even Frank Sinatra. Botti has also performed with many of the finest symphonies and at some of the world’s most prestigious venues from Carnegie Hall and the Hollywood Bowl to the Sydney Opera House and the Real Teatro di San Carlo in Italy.
Last night the trumpeter didn’t play Carnegie Hall, instead he played Universal Preservation Hall or as he called it a “town hall in a church.” And Botti didn’t play with household names that are meant to sound impressive. Instead, he surrounded himself with elite musicians that were musically impressive.
Snazzily dressed, on time, and in the groove Botti himself is a mesmerizing trumpet player and a storyteller who thrives in the spotlight. Arguably one of today’s top jazz trumpeters, Botti proves himself a gracious band leader by spotlighting every member of his dynamic band. So, I figured I would do the same.
On bass was Reggie Hamilton, the fact he’s been playing with Botti for years wasn’t a surprise. His bass complimented the high pitch trumpet perfectly. Born in NYC, he started playing bass at age 11. He was also fortunate enough to have New York bassist Kim Clarke as his first teacher. Reggie studied double bass with Craig Thomas and Philadelphia Orchestra’s Neil Courtney. He also studied composition with Dennis Sandole. Not sure of those names? That’s okay – he’s played bass for Seal, Queen Latifah, Christina Aguilera, Anita Baker, Bette Midler, Whitney Houston, John Mellencamp, Warren Zevon, Mariah Carey, and Tina Turner.
Pianist Holger Marjamaa came all the way from Estonia, via Astoria, Queens. His first classical performance was when he was only 7, and his first jazz gig was at a pub when he was 8. He moved from the Steinway to the synthesizer as the night progressed, his range was impressive and he was able to hold his own along with his more seasoned compadres.
On the kit was truly one of the elite drummers of our lifetime, Lee Pearson. He started playing younger than anyone else on stage – he was 2. Remember the incredible rhythms on Peter Gabriel’s album “So”? That was Lee Pearson. Besides incredible playing throughout the night, and solos that in a perfect world would have gone on forever, apparently Pearson also sings. Last night’s performance concluded with a fun rendition of “What a Wonderful World” where Lee mimicked the great Louis Armstrong.
South American guitarist Leonardo Amuedo, born in Uruguay and resides in Brazil, learned his first guitar chords when he was 4 years old. Leo’s tremendous rhythmic control in his phrasing is not at all as simple as one might imagine. And to do it with the kind of grace and elegance he is capable of is a testament to the talent of this brilliant guitarist. Amuedo recorded on Botti’s 2013 album, Impressions which received a Grammy Award for “Best Instrumental Pop Album.”
Caroline Campbell, a wonderful violinist was a nice touch as well. She is featured playing “Oblivion” by Astor Piazzolla on Impressions, and played the number briliantly for the packed Saratoga audience. There was even a moment when Caroline, barefoot, played a medley of well-known tunes that included some down-home fiddlin’. Her rapid scales and leaps, double-note passages, and harmonics were so magical that they took everyone’s breath away. And if you think Botti’s list of stagemates are impressive, Campbell has played with a who’s who in the music world including Black Eyed Peas, Carrie Underwood, Paul McCartney, Barbra Streisand, Beyonce, Justin Timberlake, Herbie Hancock, Alicia Keys, Rod Stewart, Neil Diamond, Bette Midler, Lionel Richie, Natalie Cole, John Legend, and many, many others.
Unlike most concerts, vocals weren’t a huge part of the night, but when they were – Shayna Steele took command and worked the room. She wasn’t a stranger to the “in the round” stage, reaching out and embracing each section in kind during an awe inspiring take on “Embraceable You.” Shayna’s resume holds its own with the instrumentalists. She was the featured vocalist on Snarky Puppy’s “Family Dinner” and reached #1 on the Dance Billboard charts as a featured vocalist on Moby’s “Disco Lies. Her performance at UPH was brief, but the impact left you wanting more.
Chris Botti brought together an all-star squad to the new venue for a night that people will be talking about for months to come. Proctor’s via Universal Preservation Hall is helping to bolster Saratoga’s reputation for a year-round musical mecca joining the likes of Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Caffé Lena and Putnam Place (yes, Putnam Place). If UPH continues to bring this caliber of artists, the conversation will quickly change from “how much did it cost to renovate the old church” toward “who are they bringing in this weekend.”