MUSIC

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Mary Chapin Carpenter

Despite its size, Wolf Trap always feels like a more intimate venue because of the typical audience's enthusiasm and attentiveness. On Thursday night, Mary Chapin Carpenter fueled that energy with a lively performance, and the crowd responded by clapping along to the sassy "Shut Up and Kiss Me" and dancing during "Down at the Twist and Shout." The rowdiness died down during the quieter numbers, and the crowd's respectful silence reinforced Carpenter's strength as a performer.

Carpenter's jovial stage presence kept that attention even between songs. She joked that she needed to rewrite her old hit "I Feel Lucky" to downgrade the unrequited crushes she had on other country singers before her marriage (those revised lyrics: "Dwight Yoakam's in the corner, trying to catch my eye / Lyle Lovett's right beside me with his hand upon my thigh / My husband's got a nail gun and he's coming after you!").

Carpenter was even lighthearted about her songs' often-melancholy themes. She introduced "What Would You Say to Me?" as "another song about rejection, alienation and depression," and then laughed, exclaiming, "At least this one has a perky melody!"

It was those upbeat melodies that kept Carpenter's 90-minute set rolling along. Her five-piece backing band sustained the vigor, adding mandolins, guitars and a piano to her songs to expand her sound, filling the cavernous space but creating the ambiance of a small, open-air coffee shop.

-- Catherine P. Lewis

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

Norwegian-born conductor Arild Remmereit has been making a name for himself by covering for indisposed music directors at the eleventh hour. Thursday night at the Music Center at Strathmore, he again proved his mettle by stepping in for an ailing Yuri Temirkanov with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

Remmereit led the orchestra in a particularly smooth and powerfully effective performance of Prokofiev's Symphony No. 7. From the darkly intense opening, conductor and orchestra together captured wry irony in the lighter portions of the work and sweeping drama in the Russian romanticism.

The orchestral soloists well deserved the standing ovation they received for Rimsky-Korsakov's dynamic "Russian Easter" Overture. Violin, cello, flute, clarinet, oboe and trombone all held forth mightily and lyrically as the spotlight shone on each of them. All the players looked elated as Remmereit brought the piece to a very thrilling conclusion.

Piano prodigy Kit Armstrong doesn't make it easy to get past the gee-whiz factor, especially since he looks four or five years younger than his actual age of 13. But the fact that he is on the professional circuit demands that he be evaluated as a concert pianist, not a curiosity.

There's no argument that his talents and showmanship are astonishing for his age. While one wouldn't claim that he sounds mature, his technique was crystal-clear and his approach musical; his serious face displayed a studied concentration beyond his years. Though more controlled than exuberant, his nearly note-perfect rendition of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1 was appropriately light and simple.

The program repeats tonight and tomorrow afternoon in Baltimore.

-- Gail Wein

DJ Premier and DJ P

Hip-hop fans repeatedly craned their necks to spot beatmaker DJ Premier at the downtown club Avenue on Thursday night. Since the show was on the venue's third floor, which doesn't have a backstage area, the longtime DJ for rap duo Gang Starr nonchalantly strolled through the crowd of awed onlookers while heading to the decks.

It wasn't long before a mass of camera phones surrounded the unassuming but revered beat architect, who's produced everyone from Sinead O'Connor to Jay-Z. With a high-powered set aimed at traditionalist hip-hoppers, Premier's needle dropped on a plethora of tunes he'd concocted himself. KRS-One's "MC's Act Like They Don't Know" initiated an eruption, as the club's floor became a trampoline to bouncing fans.

"Hip-hop is in trouble right now," Premier declared from the turntables in a sandpapery rasp. "And we're here to fix that." Sidestepping rap's cliched crunk fare -- sorry, Lil' Jon -- he mostly spun tracks built around jazzy beat loops and choruses not with crooned refrains but precisely scratched vocal fragments like those on Nas's "Nas Is Like."

DJ P, who preceded Premier, has become both beloved and occasionally despised for popularizing the mash-up -- merging two disparate tunes into one. His breakneck-paced set included seamless mixes of such improbable pairings as Suzanne Vega and Tupac Shakur. It seems P enjoyed the jams as much as the crowd did, as he briefly abandoned the turntables for the dance floor and unleashed frenzied break-dance moves.

-- Craig Smith

Queen's Dominion

Queen's Dominion, which performed Thursday night at National Geographic's Grosvenor Auditorium as part of the sixth annual Washington Jewish Music Festival, records for Tzadik, a label whose specialties include "radical Jewish music." Yet there was little radicalism in the quintet's performance, which ensemble leader Basya Schechter explained was an attempt to conjure "landscapes" from the Persian empire during the reign of Cyrus the Great.

As a practical matter, that meant short pieces for (mostly) Middle Eastern instruments, employing rhythms from the Mediterranean region, and stately, circular tunes that suggested Renaissance Europe as much as ancient Israel or Iran. For three numbers, the group was joined by two nontraditional belly dancers, whose movement emphasized the melodies' twirl.

Queen's Dominion began as a collaboration between Schechter, who plays the lutelike oud, and Alan Kushan, who plays santur, an Indo-Persian counterpart of the hammered dulcimer. Joining them Thursday were violinist Meg Okura and electric bassist Shanir Blumenkranz (both veterans of Schechter's other group, Pharaoh's Daughter), as well as percussionist Shane Shanahan, whose battery of drums and shakers was largely Middle Eastern. The five performed deftly together, keeping solo passages brief and tightly integrated into the central themes.

Indeed, a little more freedom would have been welcome, but that may come. After an encore with a Yiddish song from the Pharaoh's Daughter repertoire, Schechter announced that this was the first time the five musicians had played this material live.

-- Mark Jenkins

Jackie Greene

"Jeez, he even looks a little like Bob," murmured an Iota audience member Thursday while gazing at Jackie Greene. Under a pouf of hair, shoeblack-eyed, slack-jawed, the young singer bent the strings of his acoustic guitar as his harmonica rack bobbed on his chest.

Granted, even with pre-electric Dylan you couldn't make out the words. Greene's voice was a bold, bright thing. As he dwelled on variations on the blues -- from his self-penned opener "About Cell Block #9" to Muddy Waters's "Rollin' and Tumblin' " -- his enunciation was clear, and his intention was even clearer: to reinvent the genre yet again, without all those nasty trappings of suffering artist and endangered listener.

No bottles were broken, no shivs unsheathed as the 24-year-old Monterey, Calif., native, accompanied by a subtle snare drummer, employed guitar, harmonica, piano and that marvelous voice to crowd-pleasing effect. He's a smart performer as well: In one ingenious move, he slowed down "Shake, Rattle and Roll" to such a slinky, smoky piano boogie that the command to "wash your face and hands" sounded positively illicit.

When he left the blues, his own compositions, such as the catchy radio hit "Honey I Been Thinking About You" and "Mexican Girl," with its impressive Spanish-guitar intro, revealed a compositional level above those of the other young troubadours du jour. He's so boutique-shelf perfect, in fact, that it's hard to know where he'll go from here. He's already got some tempting laurels to rest on.

Where he went Thursday night, as soon as possible, was bed. The show ended, surprisingly, without an encore, not long after Greene revealed that he and his sideman had had four hours of sleep in three days. "We're young," he said, "but we're not that [expletive] young."

-- Pamela Murray Winters

Russell Malone

"We slapped a little Afro Sheen on that tune," said guitarist Russell Malone at the Kennedy Center's KC Jazz Club on Thursday night. By the time he and his band mates polished off the Carpenters' old hit "We've Only Just Begun," the familiar pop melody was bracketed by a wild assortment of blues, soul and funk licks -- almost enough to make Karen Carpenter and Bo Diddley seem related.

By then, no one in the club was unaware of Malone's six-string virtuosity. Backed by a responsive trio -- pianist Martin Bejerano, bassist Tassili Bond and drummer Jonathan Blake -- the guitarist opened the show with a few original pieces that showcased signature traits: a keen sense of dynamics, a sophisticated harmonic approach, and a gift for turning his improvisations into dramatic arcs before finding colorful ways to neatly resolve them.

A Georgia native who grew up listening to a lot of gospel, soul, country and blues, Malone also used other techniques to alter the mood. Call-and-response patterns, vibrato-capped phrases and sliding double-stops sustained a relaxed and southern tone at times. Yet nothing proved more melodic than a spacious and softly amplified interpretation of the pop standard "More Than You Know," which found Malone using both pick and fingers to create a lovely, shimmering arrangement.

The concert was part of the Kennedy Center's ongoing series "A New America: The 1940s and the Arts," but only one performance entirely suited the theme: the quartet's swinging and thematically freewheeling version of "Wholly Cats," a tribute to electric-guitar pioneer Charlie Christian.

-- Mike Joyce

© 2005 The Washington Post Company