There’s a scene in the movie “La La Land” that takes place in a jazz club where Ryan Gosling’s character explains the intricacies of jazz to his girlfriend, Mia. He points out how each musician is constantly improvising, rewriting and taking control of the melody. He talks about it as if it’s a dance –– how everybody needs to be aware of their fellow musicians in order not to step on each other’s toes. He passionately claims, “It’s conflict, it’s compromise...and it’s very, very exciting.”
That scene perfectly sums up the performance multi-Grammy Award-winning trumpeter Chris Botti and his band gave at the Lied Center for Performing Arts on Thursday night. While it was certainly Botti’s show to lead, each band member got a chance to be in the spotlight throughout the performance. They were all equally extraordinary musicians and some of the best one would hear at their respective crafts.
The most impressive part about Botti’s show was how much variety there was in it. One moment, Botti was crooning out a smooth jazz standard, and the next, he was belting out impossibly high notes while being backed up by an electric guitar. He brought out a violinist, Delaney Harter, who harmonized beautifully with the buzz of his trumpet. Botti even came out into the seats and interacted with the audience while playing one of his solos. There were so many visual and auditory treats during the show, each providing a new layer to the performance. No matter the pace, energy or featured musician, each song was still rooted in jazz stylings, as improvisation was a heavy factor in the show.
Before one song, “You Don’t Know What Love is,” Botti prefaced it by saying they would start out playing it routinely, but then “our drummer will take us off a cliff.” He wasn’t exaggerating, as the drummer took over halfway through the number and made the song his own. There were many similar instances throughout the show, with the band starting out at a relaxed, slow pace and then suddenly exploding into improvisational madness. It was a way of keeping audience members on their toes; they never knew what was coming next.
The more raucous moments of the show truly had the atmosphere of a rock concert. Each musician was putting his or her all into the music, and there was a palpable energy in the room. It was surprising how loud these musicians played at times, so loud that one couldn’t hear any of the applause.
During the show, Botti said he has been touring continuously for the last 16 years and is on the road for over 250 days per year. His experience and expertise really shone through, hitting every note perfectly and stretching the boundaries of what people usually think a trumpet sounds like. Botti has performed with artists such as Sting, Lady Gaga and Josh Groban, and got his first big breaks right out of college when he toured briefly with Frank Sinatra and Buddy Rich in the mid-80s. He spoke at length about how those two legends inspired him and taught him so much about performing. And it’s easy to see that they taught him well. He is just as charismatic when he is speaking about his life and career as he is playing the trumpet.
Not to be forgotten are the two incredible vocalists who performed with Botti: Shayna Steele and Rafael Moras. Steele had a performance style typically suited for jazz, with a soulful voice and impressive riffing abilities. Botti brought Moras out to finish the show with a pivot into operatic music. Moras gave gorgeous, rousing performances of “Time to Say Goodbye” and “Nessun Dorma,” and then Botti and his band bid the Lied farewell.
But the Lincoln audience wouldn’t let Botti go. With a long standing ovation, the musicians emerged to play one final song, the jazz classic “What a Wonderful World.” It was the perfect way to bring the show back to its jazz core, performed by some of the best jazz musicians out there. Botti’s third show at the Lied Center left the audience wanting more, so don’t be surprised if these remarkably talented performers return sometime in the future to entertain Lincoln once more.