(By Stephen J. Sherman -- Kennedy Center)
Thursday, November 24, 2005


No one brings business to a concert merchandise booth quite like Oakland-based soul singer Ledisi. She doesn't peddle baby tees or dog tags bearing her name and likeness, but she does come to town bearing plenty of CDs -- and Ledisi albums are hard to come by.

During her set at the Birchmere on Tuesday night, the songstress encouraged fans to snag "Soulsinger: The Revival," a remixed, remastered version of her debut album available in the venue's store for $20. But many fans had purchased "Soulsinger" before the show, elated to find the disc priced below the $100 it often fetches.

The bargain of a Ledisi show extends beyond a good deal on a compact disc. She gives a mix of the R&B, soul and jazz that grace her various projects as well as the extended scat sessions and musical ad-libs typically cut from studio albums.

With a breakdown of chanting and dancing, she sliced through "Feeling Orange but Sometimes Blue," the title track from her jazz album, which, she noted, "you can buy on eBay for $189." Ledisi explained the amazing, spirited bridge by saying, "I'm African, honey, that's what we do."

Later she confessed that the soothing, lullaby-like single "Take Time," which implores, "Take time to get away, free your mind and fly away," was written as an airline jingle. When it wasn't used for a commercial, it became a song about slowing down our busy lives. Ledisi ended the piece by mimicking workday sounds such as typing on a keyboard, answering telephones and making mindless small talk -- an inventive add-on almost as precious as one of her recordings.

-- Sarah Godfrey

Guarneri String Quartet

The redoubtable Guarneri String Quartet -- those rock stars of the classical world -- descended Tuesday evening to a packed Terrace Theater, and from the first notes of Mozart's Quartet No. 19 in C, it was clear the group's fabled intelligence and consummate musicianship were there in abundance.

For all that, though, the Mozart never quite took to the air; it was high on brainpower but emotionally lackluster, and the Guarneri felt like they had yet to fully hit their stride. A solid, professional performance, to be sure. But music's like love: If you're thinking "how professional" while it's going on, something's wrong.

Ned Rorem's Quartet No. 3, a not-so-hot work from this otherwise engaging composer, had been promised as the second work. But it was replaced by Richard Danielpour's Quartet No. 5 -- and for this we can offer profound thanks. Danielpour is one of the most gifted composers on this or any other planet, and his quartet is purely and unarguably gorgeous. Building on the simplest of motivic ideas, it unfolds with intense excitement -- propulsive, imaginative, always surprising, deeply satisfying. And the Guarneri (for whom the piece was written several years ago) brought it off in full-blooded style.

Of the Mendelssohn Quartet in F Minor, Op. 6, which closed the program, it can only be said that this was a ravishing performance, and if you missed it you should regret it for the rest of your life. Sure, it's a thoroughly romantic piece, with all the swooping and swooning and throbbing and trembling that can make modern ears cringe. But this was passionate and captivating playing, with a hang-onto-your-hat finale. In a word: Unforgettable.

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