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Brickman taps holidays for a new age

New age pianist Jim Brickman brought his 2011 holiday tour to the University at Buffalo Center for the Arts Friday evening -- or as the performers repeatedly referred to it: "Christmas Eve-eve." They engaged in much verbal repartee, at times leaving the crowd rolling with laughter. Brickman played the comedic foil to his "guests," being the punch line of one joke after another. It was great fun and the audience clearly adored it.

The music was far from laughable. Brickman stated: "If you're lucky enough to have hits, you should play them at your concerts." What followed was an impeccable assortment of hits mixed with holiday favorites. Of his guests, appearing first was electric violinist Tracy Silverman, who plays a six-string amplified violin fed through a vast array of guitar effects.

He performed a breathtaking, unaccompanied solo based on holiday themes. The use of distortion and wah-wah pedal combined with the technique of a classical virtuoso to elicit roaring applause from the audience, which began well before the solo was complete. Silverman, a frequent Brickman collaborator, explained his style: "This is what happens when you give a kid who wants to play the guitar violin lessons instead."

Brickman's longest-tenured guest is alto Anne Cochran, who has performed with him since the two of them met in high school during the mid-1970s. Her voice is rich and velvety and she sang many Brickman holiday songs, such as "The Gift," "Christmas Wish" and current hit single "Fa La La," during which Cochran commanded the audience to take out their keys and rattle them like sleigh bells. During the chorus of the song, the crowd sang the "fa-la-la" portion, while Cochran responded with "it's Christmas." The sing-along resulted in palpable merriment among members of the audience, who responded as if they were part of the ensemble all along.

Along for this tour was former NFL player Ben Utecht, who won a Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts in 2006. He was featured in a supporting role to Cochran, the two of them in frequent duets. In many cases, Cochran took one verse and Utecht the following. There were times where they sang simultaneously, his classically oriented voice, full of vibrato, complimenting her sultry, soulful style.

The highlight of the evening was the Brickman hit "Simple Gifts," a superlative moment in which all four musicians were featured together. With Silverman's violin obbligato well complimenting Brickman's playing, the two vocalists traded verses before ending on a duet chorus that stunned with a dynamic finish.

In the end, it was Jim Brickman himself who most impressed. Having originated a genre, the new-age pop song, Brickman's piano solo compositions are best compared to classical "songs without words." Miniatures in inimitable style, each one is a portrait of a particular moment in his life. He ended the concert with an interpolation of "Silver Bells" and several original themes. It was a perfect example of the enigmatic blend of musical elements that is Jim Brickman.

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Jim Brickman's A Christmas Celebration

Friday evening in the University at Buffalo Center for the Arts Mainstage Theatre, North Campus, Amherst.

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