Allen Toussaint and Marva Wright
Allen Toussaint's songs have been covered more than the queen's knees. So he has spent most of his career letting other folks take his material around the world while he's stayed home in New Orleans. Toussaint opened his four-day stint at Blues Alley on Thursday by saying he'd be back home now "if it weren't for a booking agent called Katrina."
Toussaint got into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a writer, not a singer. In concert, he augments understated readings of some of the better-known pages of his amazing songbook with spoken-word tales of the folks that made them famous. From behind a grand piano, Toussaint joked that "any Britney Spears fans" probably should leave the club, then admitted to being a Spears fan himself before cueing his quartet to play "A Certain Girl," the gem he wrote (using the pseudonym Naomi Neville) in 1961.
He mentioned that by covering his "Fortune Teller" in 1964, the Rolling Stones "showed us the way to the bank." He seemed proud that both Devo and the Judds recorded "Working in a Coal Mine." Toussaint delivered a smooth-jazz rendition of "Southern Nights," most famously released by Glen Campbell.
At mid-show, he brought out fellow New Orleans treasure Marva Wright, who told of moving to the Washington area after her house was destroyed by the same hurricane that put Toussaint on the road. Wright, sitting on a stool and covered in purple sequins, opened with an R&B rendition of a first-generation rock-and-roll nugget, "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin On." She jumped into the Jackie Wilson hit "Higher and Higher" as if she were in the gospel tent at Jazzfest. With Toussaint and the band vamping, Wright, 59, kept the microphone away from her mouth while thundering through the climactic portions of "What a Wonderful World." Given the roar coming through her pipes, any amplification might have displaced some of the patrons in the cozy club.
Toussaint and Wright play Blues Alley through tomorrow.
-- Dave McKenna
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
In a triumphant performance, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra breathed life into works by Ravel and Danielpour on Thursday evening at Meyerhoff Hall in Baltimore.
Ravel's ballet "Daphnis and Chloé," often considered the composer's masterpiece, depicts the love and trials of the title characters amid Ravel's lush, exotic dream vision of ancient Greece. In the two concert suites extracted by the composer, the BSO played with admirable polish and sensitivity, particularly in wind solos. The effect was otherworldly, especially as the shimmering sounds of the Baltimore Choral Arts Society rose out of the orchestra. Guest conductor Juanjo Mena supplied unflagging energy, musicality and clarity. He also led a well-paced, alluring "Bolero" and captured the feel of the smoky cafe tabletop dance, conducting with the knees and hips but never becoming wild or sacrificing authority.
Richard Danielpour's premiere "Rocking the Cradle," an orchestral work in two movements, is a response to the events that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks -- in particular, the war in Iraq. Shostakovich, jazz, fragmentation and apocalyptic percussion all contribute to the angry, noisy first movement, "Shock and Awe." The second movement, "In Memory of the Innocent," is described by the composer as a "large-scale eulogy" for youth in Iraq and an America that no longer exists. Throughout the movement, the orchestra alternately quaked with wrath and delicately played poignant laments. Danielpour's earnestness and accessibility, as conveyed by Mena and the BSO, made for an affecting tribute.
The BSO displayed great communicative power and range throughout the concert, which will be repeated today at 11 a.m., without "Bolero."
-- Ronni Reich