Review #2: ‘An Evening with Chris Botti’ at Strathmore

World-renowned, Grammy Award-winning trumpet superstar Chris Botti returned to Bethesda’s Strathmore Music Center Thursday night to serenade a packed crowd to an elegantly enlivening evening of transformational jazz standards and innovative interpretations of pop classics.

Chris Botti. Photo courtesy of The Music Center at Strathmore.
Chris Botti. Photo courtesy of The Music Center at Strathmore.

Joined by a colossally accomplished eight-member ensemble, including Baltimore native and powerhouse drummer Lee Pearson (who can even balance a drumstick on his head while he plays) and Washington native and singer sensation Sy Smith, the eye-catching, charismatic trumpeter indulged in bountiful feats of extraordinary improvisations among arrangements ranging from big band to straight out rock (particularly on their rendition Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” with Botti’s Spanish influenced tones toting enriched splendor to the spectacular performance).

Opening his eclectic, 14-song set list with a riveting rendering of “Deborah’s Theme” (from Once Upon a Time in America), Botti, sleekly donning a well-fitted contemporary black suit, unveiled his masterful prowess at smooth phrasing while precisely and impressively enunciating notes; his breath control was remarkably impeccable.

“It’s so nice to be back in Bethesda!” Botti bellowed in between his captivating numbers to the enthusiastic onlookers who responded with thunderous applause and cheer. “What a beautiful concert hall!” he exclaimed while perusing the brimming venue with vibrant engagement.

Consummately interactive, energetic and gracious, Botti seemed more like the house’s host, rather than the headliner of the show, inviting young musicians from the upper levels to sit in the center orchestra’s second row, assimilating latecomers to their seats with humor, as well as munificently introducing each marvelous musician (violinist/actress Lucia Micarelli was particularly amazing, seamlessly shifting from passionate pathos to pulsating “Kashmir” without missing a beat – she expressively embodied every note with fervor and intensity from head to her barefooted toe).

Spectacular singer – Tenor Chad Johnson – outstandingly lent his powerful, soaring voice to Botti’s “Italia” and an effervescent rendition of “Con Te Partiró,”amplifying the spotlight for extended individual solos throughout the circa two-hour extravaganza.

After welcoming the transfixed spectators to take pictures and videos to their much whetted delight, Botti unexpectedly saunters off stage and propels into the prelude of Billie Holiday’s “The Very Thought of You,” as the strikingly fuchsia-dressed Sy Smith subsequently strolls into the opposite concert aisle where her stunning, high-spirited vocals flew fluently with Botti’s trumpet. She also later leads a fervid, disco-stomping version of “Let’s Stay Together” that has the widely-receptive audience toe-tapping, clapping and eventually rising on its feet.

Playing with his distinctively dynamic sound and pioneering ingenuity, Botti is truly a charming, dedicated, one-of-a-kind performer who radiates heart and soul in his artistry, crossing the boundaries of jazz, classical, rock and pop through his creative collaborations, which brilliantly showcase his continual quest to expand the limits of any musical genre.

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours, with no intermission.

An Evening with Chris Botti played on Thursday, October 20, 2016 at The Music Center at Strathmore – 5301 North Tuckerman Lane, in North Bethesda, Maryland. For future events, go to their calendar of events. Here is information on Chris Botti’s tour schedule.

Review: ‘An Evening with Chris Botti’ at Strathmore by Wendi Winters.

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