Saturday, June 23, 2007

Adrian Belew

Electric fans blew Adrian Belew's thinning long hair into wispy wings, and for a moment the impression was that he was holding desperately on to the neck of his guitar for grounding in a windstorm. As it happened, it was Belew who created the storm Thursday night, a sonic squall of arena-rock chords that came perilously close to overwhelming the intimate confines of Jammin' Java.

As a member of prog-rock heroes King Crimson, and having played with the likes of Robert Fripp, David Bowie and Frank Zappa, Belew is accustomed to being accompanied by world-class talent. On Thursday he was backed by the brother-sister rhythm battery of drummer Eric and bassist Julie Slick, 20 and 21 respectively. On paper it seems cuckoo; in concert it was nutty fun.

The trio muscled through such space-age chamber pieces as "Big Electric Cat" and "Thela Hun Ginjeet" with cool ferocity; Julie, as alluringly remote as Talking Head bassist Tina Weymouth, and Eric, who frequently laughed out loud after particularly busy drum solos, matched the boss note for note, causing frequent exchanges of grins across the stage. It was clear the three were having a blast while putting across their best effort.

Belew, who played a futuristic-looking Parker Fly guitar, made use of the daunting number of effects pedals at his feet, changing the sound of the guitar several times during a single tune. But the technology never overshadowed the organic nature of the numbers, and the young adults playing with him provided alarmingly mature soul.

-- Buzz McClain


Given the wisps of sound produced by the instruments and voices of the early-music ensemble Hesperus, it was canny thinking to have it perform its Washington National Cathedral concert on Thursday at the high altar -- with its audience seated in the great-choir, immediately adjacent -- rather than in the cavernous nave. In this more intimate configuration, there was both airiness and immediacy to Hesperus's ear-teasing buzzes, wheezes and hoots.

The program of 12th-to-15th-century songs was brought to vivid life by a battery of recorders and bagpipes (played with pleasing mellowness by Tom Zajac), a varied array of viols (handled with accustomed eloquence by the group's founding director, Tina Chancey) and, in both solo and supporting roles, lutes and drums (benefiting from Grant Herreid's understated phrasing).

Most of the vocals -- from exuberant, anonymously penned hymns to sighing love ballads by Lorenzo da Firenze and Johannes Ciconia -- were sung by soprano Rosa Lamoreaux. Her voice remains a rarefied joy of the local music scene, especially when, as here, its silvery timbre can float gracefully over a mere whisper of lute and recorder. But Zajac proved an able baritone (and countertenor) and Herreid a fine tenor in several songs, including a startlingly contemporary, dietary lament over having to give up fatty meats in favor of whole-grain breads and vegetables, and a sort of medieval commercial jingle for homemade lasagna. Who says old music isn't relevant?

-- Joe Banno

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