Here’s how it started this summer when I saw Chris Botti at the Cape Cod Melody Tent: Botti and his band began by etching out this sublime, mellow piece of instrumental jazz. However, the concert didn’t stay mellow – it went every which way. Botti is a master of cool, a dapper disciple of Miles Davis who shares his idol’s love of melancholic trumpet runs, but not in the least his surly attitude.
Botti, a four-time Grammy winner, who plays the Wilbur Theatre Wed. Dec. 10 & Thurs. Dec. 11, is a triple-threat: as trumpeter, as entertainer and as band-leader. (You could add composer and interpreter, I suppose, too, to make it quintuple.) Botti has a superstar sideman resume that goes from Sinatra to Sting, but over the past decade, he’s become a star in his own right – the best-selling trumpeter in the world. But just being really good doesn’t translate into this kind of mainstream appeal.
He’s an affable chap, wandering into the aisles to perform right in folks’ faces and make eye contact. He welcomes people to take photos. He tells funny stories – jokes on himself (the kids swarming his hotel in New York were there for One Direction and 5 Seconds of Summer, not him) or his close-up encounter with Bill Clinton (horrible sax player with encyclopedic jazz knowledge).
“Theme from ‘Cinema Paradiso,’” was, as ever, exquisitely bittersweet with shimmering crescendos. Botti likes to play – and oh, is he good – but Botti likes to watch, too. He’s surrounded himself, as always, with stellar musicians and Botti knows that, while his name is on the marquee, the two-and-a-half hour concert is an ensemble affair. Case In point: The Davis improv, “Flamenco Sketches,” where everyone worked parts out from five chords, each shining and then stepping. Some of most memorable moments were spent watching Botti step back and groove, to pianist Taylor Eigsti or bassist Richie Goods.
Botti had sweet musical conversations with acoustic guitarist Ben Butler during Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” guest singer Sy Smith during “The Look of Love,” and, later, violinist Carole Campbell and guest singer George Komsky on “Time to Say Goodbye.” Near the end, Botti was raving about Campbell and noted the only way to truly showcase her talents “is for me to get the hell of the stage.” He did; she soared; the crowd went wild.
Ace in the hole? Drummer Billy Kilson, whose drum solo in “Indian Summer” was nothing short of breath-taking. The song rolled over into Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” (with Kilson and bassist Richie Goods leading the charge) before closing with Al Green’s “Let’s Stick Together.” At that point, Botti was blowing, Smith was wailing into the warm night and all was right with the world.
Tickets: $75-$55. Starts at 7:30.
246 Tremont St, Boston, 617-248-9700 www.thewilbur.com