Monday, November 5, 2007

The 5 Browns

Rarely does one see five grand pianos huddled onstage, much less hear them played simultaneously in concert. But play them the 5 Browns did on Saturday at the Music Center at Strathmore, in a performance that was as spontaneous as it was personable.

The five Utah-bred siblings, all in their 20s, made their Washington area debut with a program that ranged from classical to jazz. By introducing pieces in turn and casually interacting with the audience, they broke down the barriers of the traditional piano recital.

Sitting in a semicircle of Steinways, the brothers and sisters demonstrated their ability to draw orchestral colors out of the 440 piano keys in an arrangement of Stravinsky's "Firebird." They engaged in meditative presentations of Ralph Vaughan Williams's Five Variants of "Dives and Lazarus" and a commissioned piece, "Reflections on 'Shenandoah,' " by Juilliard classmate John Novacek. The pianists also performed in solos, duos and trios, during which their individual personalities emerged. Ever the showman, middle child Gregory invoked rock-and-roll legend Jerry Lee Lewis, wearing gloves and screaming "Oh, baby!" in Aaron Jay Kernis's "Superstar" Etude No. 1. His younger sister, Melody, displayed sensitive elegance in Saint-Saens's "The Swan," while the youngest, Ryan, sparred with his brother in "Malaguena." The two eldest, Desirae and Deondra, dove boldly into Lutoslawski's vibrant Variations on a Theme by Paganini for two pianos. Together at a single piano, the three sisters gave Debussy's ethereal "Clair de Lune" a memorable six-handed treatment.

-- Grace Jean

John Patitucci

The music of Thelonious Monk, Jerome Kern, Catalan composer Federico Mompou and bluesman Mississippi Fred McDowell? Where bassist John Patitucci and his trio mates would turn next was anyone's guess at the Kennedy Center's KC Jazz Club on Friday night, but tagging along was certainly enjoyable.

Patitucci has technique to spare, so there was nothing unusual about the virtuosity he displayed or the ease with which he moved from acoustic bass to an electric six-string model. Yet the closing set, which prominently featured drummer Brian Blade and guitarist Larry Koonse, was anything but routine.

The tune choices alone ensured a series of sharply contrasting moods, unexpected excursions and a spiritual coda. The trio's performance of Monk's "Evidence," for example, was as harmonically tart as its rendering of Mompou's "Impresiones Intimas" was soulfully alluring, a quality enhanced by Koonse's sublime touch on acoustic guitar.

An inspired level of interplay generated additional pleasures and surprises, especially when Blade imaginatively cushioned and accented the woven improvisations created by Koonse, on electric guitar, and Patitucci, whether plugged in or not. McDowell's "Jesus Is on the Mainline" capped the set. It was arranged for solo acoustic bass, and though Patitucci said he was drawn to its gospel theme, the performance also evoked a country blues guitarist's rich vocabulary of slides, slurs, pull-offs and moaning vibrato.

-- Mike Joyce

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