Some people might regard Chris Botti as the Kenny G of the trumpet. Friday night at the sold-out Dakota in Minneapolis, the suave jazz man came across as the next Ed Sullivan.
Botti's 1¾-hour second set was like a musical variety show. Fusion, balladry, opera, R&B, rock, some classic Miles Davis, pop as jazz, even some comedy and ballet. It was highly entertaining even if it felt like all that jazz as show biz.
The program was one guest after another. A saxophonist who'd played with the Rolling Stones, an operatic tenor recommended by Renee Fleming, a jazz singer who could croon and throw down some Earth, Wind & Fire, a wildly dramatic violinist who carried on like a ballet dancer, a delightfully animated bassist, a drummer who did a spot-on vocal impression of Louis Armstrong, a guitarist from Uruguay who could play flamenco and Led Zeppelin, and a baby-aced pianist from Estonia who ordered a gin-and-tonic from the bandstand.
And there was Grammy-winning emcee/bandleader Botti, who can blow like a nuanced jazz man and a stone-cold funkateer. He also has a gift of gab and an easy sense of humor.
The 59-year-old Oregon-reared trumpeter has played with everyone from Paul Simon and Sting to Andrea Bocelli and Frank Sinatra to the Boston Pops and the Minnesota Orchestra. He has a versatile vocabulary and a deep and diverse repertoire. And, like Yanni, he's sold millions of recordings, especially to PBS viewers.
The set list for Friday's second show included standards (lots of Gershwin), Miles Davis' "Blue in Green," Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir," Michael Colombier's "Emmanuel," and vocal versions of Earth, Wind & Fire's "Shining Star," "I've Got You Under My Skin" and Armstrong's "What a Wonderful" with singing by drummer Lee Pearson and a woman in the audience, whom Botti playfully (and generously) described as sounding like Dolly Parton.
On Thursday night at the Dakota, Botti showcased jazz thrush Veronica Swift but then she was off to Colorado for her own gigs. So Botti brought in tenor Jonathan Johnson, who received Friday's most zealous response.
Who will the trumpeter trot out on Saturday and Sunday? Some guy spinning plates? A ventriloquist? In any case, it'll be a really big shoe.