Last weekend saw a perennial favorite return to NEO. The 38th Annual Tri-C Jazz Fest played out over three days at Playhouse Square, offering headlining concerts Thursday through Saturday evenings as well as outdoor festivities held under the giant chandelier on Euclid Avenue. Jazz greats such as Chris Botti and Dianne Reeves opened the fest on Thursday night, followed by a host of artists including Terence Blanchard, Boney James and Norman Brown on Friday night, while Boz Scaggs closed everything out on Saturday night.

The weather loomed large in the background; the threat of rain almost cancelled the outdoor events on more than one occasion over the length of the fest. Thankfully, the clouds abated and the music played on.

The outdoor stages hosted local acts as well as some newer musicians who are gaining recognition for their talents. While most of the attention was focused on Botti, Reeves, and James, these smaller acts are really the heart of the annual get together.

Thursday’s opener Dianne Reeves wowed the opening night crowd with a soulful, intimate hour set. Growing up in Colorado, she mentioned how she was part of a 150-member youth choir. Their repertoire was primarily Classical pieces, and a Bach Oratorio came her was as a solo. She decided to try a little Ella Fitzgerald-inspired free form harmonics. Much to her chagrin, she said, her choral director asked her to sing it as, ya know, Bach wrote it. When she took the stage to recite her solo, she mentioned that 150 teenagers all breathed a collective sigh of relief as she sang Bach as it was meant to be–without a scat style improv.

Thursday’s headliner Chris Botti brought his band to the stage next. The Boston-bred trumpet player had Caroline Campbell in tow, a Cleveland Institute of Music-trained violinist. The seeming clash between a jazz horn player and classical violinist was incredible. You’d think these disparate styles would have nothing in common; quite the contrary as Ms. Campbell laid hard into a Mussorgsky piece and then dovetailed right into “Yesterday” by The Beatles. Then, just as the audience was collecting its senses, the whole band, fronted by Ms. Campbell, tore into Zeppelin’s “Kashmir.” Astounding. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a more interesting cover than that.

Guitar virtuoso Norman Brown took the stage Friday evening before Boney James and gave an electric performance that was easily one of the highlights of the weekend. His scat-style of playing was nearly outshone by the million-watt smile that he projected throughout the Palace.