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MUSIC

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Ledisi

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.

-- Stephen Brookes

Bauhaus

Bauhaus vocalist Peter Murphy contracted pneumonia in 1983, limiting his contributions to the band's final studio album, "Burning From the Inside."

It looked like he might have had pneumonia again when the re-reunited Bauhaus (the group also toured in 1998) played Strathmore on Tuesday.

The 48-year-old lead singer can be riveting; in his younger days Murphy channeled the manic stage presence of Iggy Pop. But Murphy stood almost motionless throughout the band's 19-song set, from the plodding opener, "Burning From the Inside," to the first encore, "Bela Lugosi's Dead." The latter is one of the band's greatest songs, but a ready-to-leave Murphy performed it in what looked to be a dressy winter-coat-and-scarf combo.

Murphy's amazing baritone voice sounded fine, but his delivery was perfunctory at best, especially on two pieces that can showcase his intensity: the creepy Latin section of "Stigmata Martyr" and T. Rex's stomping "Telegram Sam." At least the rest of Bauhaus (guitarist Daniel Ash, bassist David J, drummer Kevin Haskins ) seemed to be fine, and the extremely loud band rocked the not-quite-full house -- even if the house is a beautiful classical music venue that can separate and project amplified instruments in awkward ways. (The bass was overwhelming.)

Bauhaus is cited as the progenitor of goth-rock, so it is often lumped in with such insignificant, pasty-pasted wretches as Fields of the Nephilim. But Bauhaus successfully mixed glam-rock and reggae, punk and the avant-garde in ways that have rarely been duplicated. The set list bore out this eclecticism, from the dub-steeped "She's in Parties" and the Chic-like funker "Kick in the Eye" to the new-wavy "Terror Couple Kill Colonel" and the final song of the second encore, David Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust." By this time, Murphy had dropped the winter coat in favor of just the scarf, but his face was saying good night well before the song ended.

-- Christopher Porter

Konono No. 1

Konono No. 1 is from Congo, but the band's most recent CD, "Congotronics," is getting more attention from adventurous rock partisans than from Afropop fans.

This is because "Congotronics" offers a one-of-a-kind meld of distortion and feedback atop a frenetic and powerful rhythm.

Using three electrified thumb pianos called likembes, shrieking whistles, and percussion instruments and microphones made from car parts, the combo feed their sounds through amps powered by car batteries and "voice throwers": huge megaphones on poles.

Tuesday evening at the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage, Konono No. 1 was not cacophonous, but instead a potent African dance band.

With one megaphone broken by an airline, the other blown out earlier in the tour, and the handmade amps and mikes at home, these rural transplants to the working-class suburbs of Kinshasa sounded more conventional with Western sound equipment.

Conventional, however, is a relative term. This multigenerational unit still featured sonics created partly by a cowbell that resembled a whirligig, a rough-edged lone cymbal and the metal-keyed bass, medium, and treble likembes.

But with the chanted call-and-response lyrics of vocalists Waku Menga and Pauline Mbuka Nsiala emanating more clearly than the voices on disc and the likembes low in the mix, Konono were almost folkloric.

A traditional Congolese band can still move hips, and Konono generated an hour of polyrhythmic grooves.

While there is not much variation in the arrangements, the rapid pinging, banging and plucking on cuts such as "Masikulu" and "Kule Kule" was still entrancing.

Menga offered a bit of blare on the whistle, and happily shimmied through most of the set. Perhaps intimidated by the ushers and the velvet-carpeted decor, the staid audience settled for vigorous head-nodding.

-- Steve Kiviat

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