Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Chuck Prophet

It's not surprising that singer/songwriter/hotshot guitarist Chuck Prophet has seemingly topped out at the status of cult favorite, although it speaks nothing of his abilities. Prophet is a fine craftsman of songs that are alternately twangy and jangly, has an appealingly deadpan vocal delivery to match his wry lyrical observations, and owns the fretboard of his Fender Telecaster. He draws his influences from other underground heroes, and the echoes of everyone from Alex Chilton to Peter Case to Steve Wynn could be heard throughout his performance Saturday night at Iota.

Like Case and Wynn, Prophet got his start with a largely forgotten '80s college radio band (in this case Green on Red), and a hint of swirling pop remains in his work, providing a nice counter to the mostly blues- and jazz-tinged roots rock.

In most songs, including covers of Iggy Pop's "I'm Bored" and Bob Dylan's "From a Buick 6," Prophet ripped off searing solos that showed power, dexterity and finesse, ones that drew applause when he let that final note ring, even though the song wasn't over yet. The only drawback to these impressive displays of ax-handling was the frequent appearance of his "Oh, man, even I can't believe how supremely I am wailing away right now!" face.

Some of the nuances from Prophet's excellent recent album "Soap and Water" were lost in the live setting. On record, "Doubter of Jesus (All Over You)" is a spooky song featuring mechanized drumbeats and backing vocals from a boys' choir. On Saturday it was simply a straightforward rocker that built up an impressive head of steam. Prophet's wife, Stephanie Finch, seemed tentative for much the evening; her usually sweet harmonies failed to make much of an impression. But when she stepped away from her keyboard and took lead vocal duties late in the set, it was an obvious highlight.

-- David Malitz

Annapolis Symphony Orchestra

Music reminiscent of Norway, the Czech Republic and Annapolis filled Maryland Hall on Saturday night as the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra celebrated the city's 300th anniversary.

What does Annapolis sound like? Composer Dan Visconti called on sacred and secular music of Anne Arundel County and sea chanteys of Chesapeake fishermen to create "The Breadth of Breaking Waves." The work was affecting and uncluttered. A primitive, mystical quality colored and offset thundering crashes and glittery chime sounds that, if showy and familiar, did evoke waves hitting surf and sun glistening on water. Visconti is one of four finalists in the orchestra's competition for composers age 35 or younger. Audience members will help select the winner by completing surveys.

No written response was necessary to gauge the reaction to pianist Jon Nakamatsu, who received a standing ovation for Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg's driving, folk-inflected Concerto for Piano. Nakamatsu met its formidable fingerwork demands with confidence and brought a liquid tone to rhapsodic, undulating passages. The orchestra was a bit tentative on entrances, but responded emphatically to Nakamatsu's intensity.

Dvorak's Seventh Symphony showed the orchestra at its best. Although some solos faltered, the ensemble was tight, with a sense of the piece's Brahmsian romanticism and also its sweetness and capriciousness. Conductor Jos┬┐-Luis Novo smoothed over shorter, more playful motifs that imbue the piece with personality, but maintained motion, direction and a stately energy.

-- Ronni Reich

Daniel Schlosberg and Ryan de Ryke

Austrian composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold died 50 years ago. The round-numbered anniversary has generated commemorative concerts across the country, including one Friday night at the Austrian Embassy, which paired Korngold with his compatriot Ernst Krenek.

Reuniting these two contemporary yet contrary composers was the brainchild of young pianist Daniel Schlosberg, a Korngold enthusiast who brought both passion and intellect to his performance of the nearly forgotten Piano Sonata No. 2.

The 30-minute sonata is a tremendous creation, considering Korngold was all of 13 when he wrote it in 1910. It's brimming with ideas, perhaps too many. For all its complex harmonies, heroic octaves, smoldering wisps of melody and restless rhythms, the composition ultimately feels forced -- like a 13-year-old trying to act 30. The rumbling Largo seems racked with pain, but one wonders how much pain such a wunderkind can really have known.

Songs by Korngold were also on display, sung by the warm-voiced baritone Ryan de Ryke. He found vivid drama in visually oriented songs such as the "Night Wanderer," with its eerie ride. His voice is still young, and it showed in the technically challenging Op. 18 songs. Refinements of diction, phrasing and coloration will undoubtedly come.

While Korngold found fame composing melodic film scores in Hollywood, Krenek composed in myriad styles, embracing the thorny serialist method. But Schlosberg and de Ryke focused on Krenek's lyrical side with a set of well-built songs (Op. 56) from 1927, cast firmly in the German lieder tradition, with animated piano parts.

It was a smartly programmed evening, which presented the more experimental, Krenek side of Korngold and the sweeter, Korngold side of Krenek.

-- Tom Huizenga

Eartha Kitt

Is any woman on the planet more dangerous than Eartha Kitt? Even at 80, the original sex kitten can wreak more damage on men's hearts with a simple glance than today's pop tarts can with their entire bodies. And in a funny, flirtatious, high-octane performance on Saturday night at the Warner Theater, she showed the world how to age -- not just gracefully, but magnificently.

"I may be 80," Kitt said midway through the evening. "But I'm still purring!" And purr she did, through more than two dozen of the songs that have made her an icon across a six-decade career. Flashing a pair of still-perfect legs -- and toying with a few helpless males in the audience -- she brought perfect comic timing to classics like "Speaking of Love" ("I could be passionate/If there were cash in it"), "Old Fashioned Girl," "C'est Si Bon" and, of course, her trademark "I Want to Be Evil."

Kitt's elegantly strange voice seems hardly to have aged at all. It's still supple and completely theatrical, sliding effortlessly from sultry growl to coquettish whisper to full-blown roar. But Kitt didn't just sing onstage -- she lived the songs, strutting and kicking and slinking her way through the evening, sometimes just letting her hips do the talking.

And while most of the show was playfully tongue-in-cheek, Kitt showed her deeper side, too, bringing real heartbreak and despair to songs like "Guess Who I Saw Today" and "If You Go Away" (the Jacques Brel song also known as "Ne Me Quitte Pas").

-- Stephen Brookes

Chaka Khan

"We're gonna mix the very old with the very new," said the legendary songstress Chaka Khan, setting the tone for her show Sunday at the Warner Theatre. The former naturally came from her work with '70s funk outfit Rufus and her '80s solo material, and the latter was culled from her latest album, "Funk This." In addition to the old and the new, Khan threw in tracks that other artists have borrowed and a couple that were kind of blue, all of which added up to an engaging performance crossing different genres, eras and styles.

Khan's current tour reunites her with Tony Maiden, Rufus guitarist and co-writer of some of the group's best-known songs, which added an extra layer of excitement to the vintage material. "Do You Love What You Feel," "You Got the Love," "Tell Me Something Good" and "Sweet Thing" inspired dancing and squeals of delight from those music lovers for whom the name "Rufus" will never be followed by "Wainwright."

While the "Best of Rufus" portions of the evening were electrifying, tracks from the Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis-produced "Funk This" held their own among the beloved favorites. "Will You Love Me?" took Khan deep into her low range, which is powerful and rich, although often overshadowed by her marvelous high-pitched shrieks. And the hymnlike first single, "Angel," along with the contemporary ballad "One for All Time" (which Khan said would serve as the album's second single), could be the best thing to happen to adult radio in quite some time.

-- Sarah Godfrey

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