Saturday's soul extravaganza at the Washington Convention Center was actually two shows in one. The first half featured two teen-age male quintets -- New Edition and the Force M.D.s -- who relied on the hyperactive dancing and falsetto harmonies of the Jacksons to the squeals of the sold-out crowd that was predominantly young and female. The second half featured two of the most successful composer-arrangers in soul -- Mtume and Kashif -- who offered a sophisticated blend of soul vocals, avant-funk synth arrangement and pop-jazz solos to a noticeably smaller and quieter crowd.
New Edition got the most squeals but the Force M.D.s sounded better in the first half. Both groups incorporated breakdance moves into classic Motown choreography and rap into old-fashioned five-part harmonies. The Force M.D.s' blend of voices was far smoother and fuller, though, as they reached beyond the Jacksons to the street corner doo-wop of Frankie Lymon & the Teen Agers.
Kashif is an admirable pop craftsman in the studio, but on stage he was disappointingly bland. Five electric keyboardists cluttered up the sound, and the hit songs Kashif wrote for Evelyn King, Howard Johnson and himself began to sound the same. By contrast, Mtume stripped away all excess baggage and offered one of the leanest, freshest funk sounds in years on hits like "Juicy Fruit" and "You, Me and He." Tawatha Agee soared into spectacular gospel wails, and James Mtume's minimal arrangements were brightened by brief splashes of synth coloring. -- Geoffrey Himes