Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Contemporary Music Forum

Members of the Contemporary Music Forum abandoned their usual lair at the Corcoran Gallery of Art on Sunday to perform at the Phillips Collection, where they blew away the Music Room's Old World gloom with some of the most provocative and colorful new music heard this year.

Four of the Forum's member composers were on the program, including Jeffrey Mumford, whose earnestly pedantic titles belie the radiant beauty of his music. His intricate "focused expanse of evolving experience" was a perfect example -- a sort of heroic mini-concerto for flute whose complex structure was put completely to the service of its emotional logic. (Eloquent playing by David Whiteside didn't hurt, either.) Tenor Robert Baker delivered two songs from Douglas Boyce's "Book of Songs" that can only be described as drop-dead beautiful. Easily the most captivating works on the program, these songs of love and death are extraordinarily well written and insightful. And Boyce could hardly ask for a finer interpreter than Baker, accompanied by the brilliant Lura Johnson-Lee on piano.

Percussionist Barry Dove brought wit and impressive voltage to Toshimitsu Tanaka's 1965 classic Two Movements for Marimba, which still sounds fresh. But Frederick Weck's new "Video VI" for violin and marimba, with its stale vocabulary and light show of geometric shapes, felt mired in some bygone avant-garde decade. Steve Antosca's "for two" for flute and viola got a lively and unpredictable performance, though, and Eric Moe's "riprap" was a feast of musical imagination -- a fine work from one of America's most gifted young composers.

-- Stephen Brookes

Lee 'Scratch' Perry

Last month, reggae icon Lee "Scratch" Perry performed in Jamaica for the first time in 44 years. The surprisingly small crowd attending his show at Crossroads on Sunday must have wondered whether they'd have to wait four decades, too -- Perry canceled his last concert here -- but the genius-madman producer and writer behind some of reggae's greatest songs was merely 2 1/2 hours late.

Perry is a legendary eccentric, but the delay wasn't his fault: The driver from Crossroads was sent to the wrong airport to pick to him up. You can only imagine what the baggage-claim folks must have thought about their extended visit with the 4-foot-11 and 70-year-old Perry, whose beard is red, hair is green and style of speech seems to be that of a visitor from outer space.

When Perry finally took the stage, backed by Dub Is a Weapon, he rambled through a weak set that was appealing only because it was good to see "The Upsetter" in the flesh -- and what fine flesh it is. "No wrinkles, no crinkles, no pimples for Mr. Perry," he mumbled into a microphone elaborately decorated with Rastafarian images and colors.

His face did look pretty good, but his small, nasally voice was another matter. Perry was never a great crooner, so it's unfair to compare his versions of "Small Axe," "Kaya," "Exodus" and "Punky Reggae Party" to those of a true soul singer like Bob Marley. Still, Perry couldn't have sounded more disinterested on tunes such as "Roast Fish and Cornbread."

After an hour, he got a signal from a woman at the front of the stage, quickly picked up his bag, waved to the audience and left the stage for good.

-- Christopher Porter

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