Botti spotlights eclecticism

Written by Ashley Polasek
Contributing Writer,

When Chris Botti and guest vocalist Renee Olstead found themselves working through kinks in “The Very Thought of You,” a song they were performing together for the first time at their Peace Center concert Friday night, he quipped “this is really jazz.”

And was it ever.

In a concert that ranged from Chopin to Michael Jackson, trumpeter Botti’s melodic jazz style and his keen improvisational skills were at their best from his first note.

Looking ever-dapper in a three-piece suit, Botti stepped on stage and launched into a jazzy tune, filling the hall with a wonderful robust tone. He showcased his seemingly endless stamina as he soared, rocked and wailed his way through a two-hour set of expertly-arranged tunes.

Musical variety is the hallmark of Botti’s concerts and he didn’t disappoint, creating a set that seamlessly ran the gamut between jazz, pop, rock and classical.

The ethereal “Love Theme” from the Italian film “Cinema Paradiso,” a jazz-infused version of Chopin’s “Prelude in C Minor” and a touching rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” were all the more pleasing for being unexpected.

Botti took the stage with an intimate band of five that would have been as at-home in a nightclub as they were in the Peace Center’s Concert Hall. Each of the musicians took solos that highlighted an incredible range of talent.

Pianist Billy Childs and bassist Richie Goods contributed particularly dazzling fleet-fingered solos, during a tribute to Miles Davis’ “Flamenco Sketches.”

Versatile guitarist Leonardo Amuedo thrilled the crowd with solos that ranged from a soulful caress to a hard-charging version of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man.”

In addition to Olstead, the concert also featured guest violinist Caroline Campbell.

Campbell accompanied the band on several numbers, rendering a particularly powerful and heartbreaking duet, “Emmanuel,” with Botti. She also took the stage and let loose on a virtuosic, screaming solo number that earned roars of delight, and a well-deserved standing ovation from the audience.

Olstead, who was joining this tour for the first time, sang with a sensuous sophistication well beyond her 23 years. She provided touching and intimate vocals, but really wowed the crowd when she and Botti expertly scatted together on “The Look of Love.” Olstead even taking control of the valves of Botti’s trumpet while he played pealing runs and she harmonized.

The concert ended on a heartwarming note as Botti invited a 10-year-old girl from the audience on stage to provide the swelling cymbal roll in the band’s encore number, “Nessun Dorma,” the beloved aria from Puccini’s opera “Turnadot.”

It was a touching end to an evening of superb and joyous music.

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