Picture a boys' choir echoing through a vaulted Gothic cathedral, a minstrel serenading his lady fair or nuns chanting behind convent walls -- all possible settings for medieval music, though we don't know precisely how it was performed. But you could savor the austere yet beguiling beauties of millennium-old fare Sunday, when the women of the Trio Mediaeval sang their way, without instruments, through an evening of Christmas selections at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater.
An a cappella concert demands much from singers, and the trio, a cluster of Scandinavians, had it all. Clad in handsome but stern black-and-white gowns enlivened by pastel appliques, they showed why their voices are drawing crowds, usurping the popularity once enjoyed by Anonymous 4. Their Christmas program centered on the voluminous medieval repertoire glorifying the Virgin Mary (when devotion to her and the celebration of courts of love reached their peak).
The trio made this music come wonderfully alive in a performance that was all but flawless. The concert's first half featured European carols arranged for the group in Norwegian translations. The second featured arrangements of traditional Norwegian songs. Most of the pieces had three separate melodic lines, and the singers clearly listen to each other, constantly adjusting for a creamy blend, consistent balance and faultless intonation. Their pure sound resembles the timbre of a vibratoless boys' choir yet a bit warmer. Phrases taper off to totally aligned cadences, and tempos are spicy.
-- Cecelia Porter
Near the midpoint of his 90-minute 9:30 club concert on Sunday, Sean Paul asked women with large breasts to toss their cell-phone numbers onto the stage for the "after party." Little pieces of paper started flying toward the dancehall superstar, and they continued to fall at his feet for the rest of the show. A dutiful hype man gathered up the digits. Based on the high volume scooped up, Paul's going to be hit with major roaming charges.
But "roaming" is something that he's used to: A large percentage of Paul's songs are about hooking up, and the women in the audience ate up his "dutty rock." The way the well-buffed Paul winds his hips could give Shakira a run for her pole-dancing money, and the females screamed like schoolgirls every time he shimmied his pelvis or made a shout-out to the "sexy ladies." Some were even more demonstrative: Before "Shake That Thing," a woman flashed her chest from the balcony, and just after the tune a giant red bra soared onto the stage.
In his flat, drony voice, Paul dispatched two of his biggest hits, "Like Glue" and "Gimme the Light," early in the set so he could get right into promoting his uneven new CD, "The Trinity." While that CD's catchy first single, "We Be Burnin'," rivals anything off his 2002 breakthrough album, "Dutty Rock," most of the other songs, like "Head in the Zone," "Send It On" and "I'll Take You There," are monotonous dancehall bangers, not crossover hits.
"Never Gonna Be the Same" is one of Paul's few tunes that's not about being a playah. Dedicated to reggae singer Daddigon, who was gunned down in January, Paul dropped his loverman shtick and delivered a heartfelt rendition of one of best songs from "The Trinity." But as soon as the tune was over, phone numbers peppered the stage and it was right back to party time.
-- Christopher Porter