Jazz guitarist Larry Carlton packed a lot into his hour-long concert at Blues Alley on Monday.
Jazz guitarist Larry Carlton packed a lot into his hour-long concert at Blues Alley on Monday. (By Senor Mcguire)
Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Larry Carlton

Guitarist Larry Carlton certainly wasn't guilty of loitering onstage at Blues Alley on Monday night. His quintet's opening set compressed the essentials, including old hits and new album tracks, into a show that ran just over the one-hour mark.

Still, lots of guitar-heads in the club got an up-close chance to hear Carlton use his flat pick and fingers on a colorful variety of tunes. Originally best known for his stellar studio session work with Steely Dan, Joni Mitchell and other pop artists, Carlton became a lite-jazz radio fixture two decades ago and now seems eager to shake things up.

Much of Monday's show featured tunes from his most recent albums: the lean and pummeling "Fire Wire" and its more soulful predecessor "Sapphire Blue." "The Prince," from "Fire Wire," saluted Prince with the requisite assortment of extended chord chops and funk beats but ultimately seemed just too derivative. The same album's "Goodbye," however, proved a charmer from the outset, resonating with slack-key tones and a slinky pulse. Carlton didn't bring the "Sapphire Blue" horn section to the club, but lone tenor man Mark Douthit helped compensate with his brawny sound. Another big asset was keyboardist Greg Mathieson, who conjured both Fender Rhodes backdrops and Hammond B-3 organ grooves.

Carlton's remarkably fluid handiwork was always evident, and not just when he was playing one of three electric guitars, each of which featured a different tuning. An extended acoustic-guitar arrangement of "Smiles and Smiles to Go," for example, was intricately laced with shimmering harmonics and single-note flourishes.

-- Mike Joyce

London Philharmonic Orchestra

Intangible qualities like chemistry and daring made the difference in the London Philharmonic Orchestra's impressive Monday evening performance at the Kennedy Center. The orchestra arrived at the tail end of a long American tour that saw its chief conductor, Kurt Masur, drop out early due to illness. A busy month and no fewer than four guest conductors later, one would have a predicted a solid if somewhat bedraggled run-through with little of the luminous sweep and detail in Eastern European music that actually came about.

The concert opener, Benjamin Britten's "Simple" Symphony, Op. 4, showed the nice connection between the orchestra and Yan Pascal Tortelier, an experienced conductor of confident technique and keen imagination. This lucid, well-appointed reading pointed to such diverse influences as Bach and Sibelius.

Yet it was the gifted Armenian violinist Sergey Khachatryan who sparked the bristling energy in Aram Khachaturian's Violin Concerto in D Minor. The 20-year-old virtuoso had an idiomatic feel for the work's ebb and flow, launching off a brilliant range of flourishes and accents in a reading that magnified the music's foreboding contrasts. Khachatryan gave a beautiful encore of the first movement from Bach's Violin Partita No. 1 in B Minor, BWV 1002.

Multihued colors, churning rhythms and passionate melodies similarly distinguished Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5 in E Minor, Op. 64. Tortelier balanced warm blending and clean articulation by turns, bringing out the music's glowing swells, tender lines and ultimately triumphant mood.

The evening was a presentation of the Washington Performing Arts Society.

-- Daniel Ginsberg

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