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Review: Washington Performing Arts Presents Chris Botti at The Kennedy Center

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Washington Performing Arts Produces an Eclectic and Entertaining Musical Evening with Chris Botti

I went to a Chris Botti concert and Cirque du Soleil and Led Zepplin broke out. Saturday night’s Washington Performing Arts concert by Grammy-winning trumpeter Chris Botti was eclectic, entertaining, and downright electrifying.

Chris Botti Live in Boston. Photo by Leann Mueller.

Chris Botti Live in Boston. Photo by Leann Mueller.

A mesmerizing trumpet player, Botti is also a storyteller who thrives on audience interaction. Arguably one of the top jazz trumpeters in America today, Botti surrounds himself with some of the best musicians in the music industry, proving himself a gracious band leader by spotlighting every member of his dynamic band. Snazzily dressed, on time, and in the groove, Chris Botti’s band continues to share an infectious joy in making music together, even after 12 years of nearly nonstop road appearances.

When I Fall In Love, a reimagined and reinvigorated take on a classic, highlighted the talent and intensity these musicians bring to their work. The fun was infectious as Botti on trumpet, Geoffrey Keezer on piano, Richie Goods on bass, Ben Butler on electric guitar, and Lee Pearson on drums swapped leads and tempos and created magic in The Kennedy Center Concert Hall. Goods turned in an impressive bass solo on an amped up Venice. Another highlight among highlights was Botti’s smooth and haunting duet with guitarist Ben Butler on Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.

DC native Sy Smith blew the roof off The Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall with her rendition of Burt Bacharach’s The Look of Love. The unison scatting by Smith and Botti was nothing short of phenomenal, and Smith emphatically proved that it really is possible for a human voice to replicate a trumpet line (even a trumpet line as smooth, sustained and multi-octaved as Botti’s). In a scene-stealing turn, Smith showed off her elegant vocals with versatility, tossing off sultry jazz and diva pop vocals with ease and assurance.

One of my favorite songs of the night, The Very Thought of You, brought Botti and Smith into the audience for a sultry duet that morphed into a rock concert with hot guitar solos by Ben Butler and Richie Goods, as well as intense solos by Lee Pearson on drums and Geoffrey Keezer and Ben Stivers on piano and keyboards respectively. There is nothing this group of musicians can’t do.

Lee Pearson’s infectious grin and enthusiastic drumming stole the show numerous times, particularly in You Don’t Know What Love Is, where his athletic and flamboyant drum solo sent drumsticks flying at the head of bassist Richie Goods, leading to much good-natured joking the rest of the evening. Pearson showed himself a drummer par excellence with a show stopping solo featuring his six year old son, Lee, at the end of the show.

Concert violinist Sandy Cameron proved the truth of Shakespeare’s lines: “though she be but little, she is fierce.” Acrobatic, athletic, and commanding, Cameron’s powerful violin playing approached the realm of performance art. Cameron and Botti teamed up for a heartwrenching and soulful Emmanuel. On a virtuoso solo turn that morphed into a raucous Kashmir with the band, Cameron brought the crowd to its feet with an electrifying performance that showed the full range of her skill.

Saturday’s concert at The Kennedy Center proved yet again why Chris Botti and his fantastic band are some of the most talented and entertaining musicians on the concert circuit today.

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Washington Performing Arts Society: Chris Botti was performed on Saturday, February 20, 2016 at The Kennedy Center-2700 F Street, in Washington, DC. For future performances at Washington Performing Arts go to their Performance Calendar.

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