Monday, June 25, 2012

Summer Concerts

There are many opportunities to attend outdoor concerts if you find yourself in the Okanagan Valley this summer.  Parks Alive puts on two or three free concerts a week in Kelowna, Festivals Kelowna has a great line up at the Keloha Festival happening in Waterfront Park July 6th to 8th. I even know of a few people who hold jazz and blues jams in their back yards, but I think the best venues in the valley for sound and beauty are the wineries.  Imagine yourself in a low slung chair with green grass tickling your toes.  The evening is warm, and grape vines and mountains surround you as you sip a citrusy rosé or an aromatic gerwertz.  

If you're looking for something casual, East Kelowna's Vibrant Vine hosts local musicians starting at 3:00 on Saturdays. If you head out Lakeshore Road Cedar Creek Winery provides a spectacular view of the sun setting behind the mountains as you listen to Chantel Kreviazuk or Andrew Allen this year.  Head south some time to the Naramata Bench where a number wineries host musical events including Sunday Sounds at Elephant Island winery.  If country music is more your style Township 7 is celebrating the Calgary Stampede's 100th anniversary with great wine, food and music July 6th.

Lyle Lovett and Chris Isaacs are scheduled to rock the Mission Hill Amphitheatre July 19th and 27th respectively and last night I was lucky enough to attend Chris Botti's performance there, along with the 899 other souls who prayed away the threatening rain (to paraphrase our host Ingo Grady). 

When I purchased my tickets in March it was more for the enjoyment of a romantic night out with my husband, drinking wine in a  beautiful outdoor venue.  My impression of Chris Botti was of an easy listening, albeit talented musician who played the type of jazz overheard as you walk through the mall.   The impression was strengthened as Botti started with a ballad whose name escapes me.  He did up it a notch when he threw in a few what I call "look what I can do" riffs, delivering rapid notes that reached impressive heights.  He transitioned seamlessly into the very recognizable When I fall in Love.  This only served to further support my expectations, but once the piano player  took off with his first solo, I knew it was going to be a night of real jazz.   Damn he's good!  I thought and was then embarrassed when Botti introduced him and I discovered I hadn't recognized ten time nominated, four time Grammy winner Billy Childs.   

Chris Botti more than met the bar set by Childs and the rest of the band was spectacular with Richie Goods on bass, drummer Billy Kilson, Brazillian Guitarist Leonardo Amuedo and a synth player whose name I'm sad to say I didn't catch.  

I wasn't expecting any other performers but after the second tune we were treated to our first guest. Swathed in a glittering violet gown, pale skin bathed in matching floodlights, virtuoso violinist Carolyn Campbell was outstanding.  She joined the band on several tunes and stood in for the orchestra on Botti's version of the Miles Davis classic En Aranjuez con Tu Amor. Her dynamic, passionate playing filled the amphitheatre.

I was thrilled they performed this piece as it beautifully illustrates the very definition of jazz through inspiration, improvisation and cooperation.  Miles Davis recorded his version in 1959, influenced by a concerto for guitar written by Joaquin Rodrigo in 1939.  Perhaps as a result of time spent in Davis's band, in 1972 Chic Chorea was inspired to create his iconic Spain.  I regret I was not at his performance at the Vancouver Jazz Festival a few years ago when the audience traded fours with Chorea through one verse.  Lastly Chic Chorea's version led to the inclusion of lyrics by Al Jarreau.

Lisa Fischer, who toured with the Rolling Stones for 19 years, was the next guest.  She was an inspiring vocalist with a range that blew my mind.  Fischer matched Botti on many of the high notes and harmonized beautifully with him on others.  I basked in the liquid warmth of her bass notes on Italia and her notes that reached the stratosphere were still full and sweet with none of the harsh strain that cause many singers to fail in the high registers.

The energy of the band and the crowd was truly invigorating and audience members gave well deserved standing ovations throughout the night.  Early in the evening Botti had spoken to a young musician in the crowd named Eric and he invited him up on stage to play the drums during the first encore.

With Eric, Billy Kilson and a roadie on the drum kit, they brought Nessun Dorma to a dramatic conclusion.  And speaking of drummers I really enjoyed Billy Kilson who Sting referred to as "badass".  I find most drum solos boring, kind of like a car chase in a movie - they're fast, furious and end with a crash. Kilson was very cool.  He showed speed, technique and dynamics tempered with thought, making me pay attention as he lowered the volume of his playing...before ending with a crash. I loved how he supported his bandmates with his body's constant motion and appreciative facial expressions, unlike some guys I've seen who stare blankly into thin air or seem to be sharing some mocking secret with the piano player.

For me the true talent of musicianship comes in knowing when to keep it simple.  Chris Botti ended the night with a perfect illustration of his genius by dismissing six of his seven band members.  He and Billy Childs then gave a haunting, subdued version of My Funny Valentine, where notes were pure and meaningful.   Towards the end of the piece Childs ran his fingers over the taut piano wires, sending shivers down my spine.  The arrangement was the perfect romantic ending to the evening.

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