Gil Scott-Heron may be the first person to play both the Capital Centre and Blues Alley. The singer-songwriter, who displayed the power to command attention in the arena three years ago, enchanted the nightclub with his subtlety last night. Washington's political-poet-turned-rap-singer led a superb nine-man band. D.C. bassist Robert Gordon and Jamaican percussionist Larry McDonald gave the back beat a suppleness that allowed Scott-Heron's lyrics to sound less singsong and more flowing. A three-man horn section flushed out the songs with punchy, melodic phrases that answered each vocal line.
Scott-Heron's old songs thus sounded fuller and smoother than they originally did on record. The band's steamy stew of jazz, funk, reggae, salsa and blues inspired Scott-Heron's best singing in some time. He was also funnier than ever. He expanded "B Movie," his popular, satirical commentary on the Reagan presidency, with a hilarious monologue worthy of Richard Pryor. "Angel Dust," his anti-PCP polemic, was capped by an extraordinary tenor sax solo by D.C.'s Ron Holloway. The solo grunted and cried with all the pain and hope of someone trying to shake off drug dependency. Gil Scott-Heron & the Amnesia Express will be at Blues Alley through Sunday.