Chris Botti

Next wave instrumentalist

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By Michael Norman  

Since jazz faded from mainstream popularity at the dawn of the rock era, instrumental music has had a tough time cracking the pop charts. But a new breed of instrumentalists is challenging the conventional wisdom, producing crossover hits with mass-market, romantic appeal. Trumpeter Chris Botti is the latest to ride the wave. A talented horn player with a lush, distinctive tone and impeccable, soulful phrasing, Botti kicked around the New York jazz scene in the 1980s before moving into pop as a sideman, recording and touring with the likes of Paul Simon, Sting, Joni Mitchell, Marc Cohn and Natalie Merchant. He recorded a string of solo albums beginning in 1995, but hit pay dirt in 2004 with When I Fall In Love, a mostly instrumental collection of romantic jazz standards that hit No. 37 on the Billboard pop album charts.

Botti's follow-up effort, To Love Again, sticks close to the same, smooth, engaging formula, but aims at even broader mainstream appeal by adding a lot more vocals. When I Fall in Love featured just a handful of vocal duets, including a rendition of "La Belle Dame Sans Regrets" with old pal Sting. To Love Again includes cool, cabaret-style collaborations with nine guest vocalists, including Sting (on a slow, swaying rendition of "What Are You Doing With the Rest of Your Life?"), Paula Cole (adding sultry charm to "My One and Only Love"), Michael Buble (dancing his way through a bubbly "Let There Be Love") and Aerosmith's Steven Tyler (yes, Aerosmith's Steven Tyler, adding weathered, warm and wonderful color to Charlie Chaplin's "Smile.").

Botti puts his atmospheric stamp on a quartet trio of instrumental jazz standards -- "What's New?" "I'll Be Seeing You," "Embraceable You," and "To Love Again" -- getting an able assist from the London Session Orchestra. Put it all together and you've got an ageless collection of romantic pop, delivered with sophistication and style. This is the sort of music that sounds best by candlelight or moonlight, delivered with wine and shared with the one you love.

Michael Norman is Entertainment Editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.