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What the Turtle Island Quartet artists have with their repertoire of nonstandard sound-producing techniques is the ability to re-create the best jazz, rock, bluegrass and the rest in sonorities that are rich, transparent, balanced and blessedly lightly amplified. This program was a retrospective of the music that this group has made its own over the years. There was an arrangement of John Coltrane's "Moment's Notice," with Chestnut spinning droplets of notes over the percussive chugs of the violins and the basslike thumping of the cello, along with a joyous rendition of "Crossroads" and Marshall's down-home-sounding bass mandolin version of "Gator Strut."
Chestnut's pensive leads in arrangements of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" wandered from sweet to astringent, and were both gentle and crystalline. Balakrishnan's "Monkey Business," a commentary on Darwinian controversy, came the closest, stylistically, to classical idioms and rounded out a program that featured astonishing versatility.
- Joan Reinthaler
If Friday night's sold-out 9:30 Club show by the Walkmen didn't have much of a palpable sense of occasion about it, perhaps it's because these guys are just too head-down professional to allow any giddiness to creep in. Never mind that this was to be their final gig of a successful year; never mind that it was a sort of homecoming, to boot: Four-fifths of the Brooklyn group grew up together here in Washington. Though absent sentimentality, it was a captivating evening of jaundiced, grandly put millennial indie sulk (with a some 1950s Sun Records DNA), of which the band retained complete control from the moment it kicked the party off with a booty-quaker called - er, "While I Shovel the Snow." It comes next to last on this year's confident "Lisbon" album. And it's a waltz. Two of the guys played triangles on it. "Half of my life I've been waking up," goes one line.
With that whisper of a tune, the group compelled the attention of the room and never gave it back. The Walkmen's best trick is the way Matt Barrick's fast-flurrying drums, Paul Maroon's surfing-the-Arctic-Sea guitar and Hamilton Leithauser's wraithlike vocals seem initially to be performing different songs, then fuse together with an immediacy that snaps your head back. The set would find room for two-thirds of "Lisbon," gathering in tempo and volume with the ferocious "Angela Surf City" and "Blue as Your Blood," a number that bridges the band's poles with coal-fired Johnny Cash verses and stratospheric U2 choruses.
Performing in a tweed jacket, trousers and a button-down, frontman Leithauser looks more like an adjunct professor than a rock star, but he's got a voice that shrinks big spaces, and the elusive quality of presence. By the time he brought on a four-piece horn section to lend a bent, regal sway to "Stranded," we'd have happily let him bum us out all night. Later, heavy-footed encores of "The Rat" and "Little House of Savages" reminded everyone that the Walkmen is still an aggressive rock band, but it didn't need 75 minutes of runway to show us that. This outfit is capable of vertical takeoff. It boils at room temperature.
- Chris Klimek
Barnes & Hampton Celtic Consort
The ancient Celtic tribes roamed far and wide, leaving their traces in languages and music from the British Isles and the Iberian peninsula to Central Europe and Asia Minor. On Saturday, the Barnes & Hampton Celtic Consort focused on the British and Irish segments of Celtic musical culture, an inheritance gradually blended with elements of other ancient societies. The ensemble's engaging, reflective afternoon marked the 25th anniversary of Dumbarton Concerts' annual Celtic Christmas event at Dumbarton Church in Georgetown.
Alternating on a bevy of instruments - some quite ancient in lineage - the consort performed a broad sampling of Christmas songs and dances, all of them marked by continually pulsing rhythms and touches of wit. (And it was easy to recognize rhythmic and melodic styles eventually passed down to Appalachian musicians.) There was the traditional, wassail-filled "Abbots Bromley Horn Dance," picturing a drunken Christmas brawl. Other arrangements dealt with sacred Christmas subjects, as in the hushed "Blessed Be That Maid Marie."
The wide assortment of music was matched by continually changing combinations of instruments, some little known today. Linn Barnes explained how he strapped himself into the uilleann pipes (Ireland's version of the bagpipes). He also played a "lutolin": a hybrid mandolin-lute that he invented. Allison Hampton soloed on the Celtic harp, and Joseph Cunliffe played everything from a tiny sopranino recorder and high-pitched whistles to a resonant bass saxophone. Steve Bloom joined in with a bodhran (an Irish frame drum), tambour (a cylindrical two-headed drum) and cymbals. WETA's Robert Aubry Davis spiced up the Yuletide mood with jauntily read narratives and poems depicting wintry landscapes of long ago.
The consort performs again at Dumbarton Church on Dec. 11 and 12.
- Cecelia Porter