Christmas Revels

"The Christmas Revels" are much like "a new year's sunshine," a phrase from the Susan Cooper poem that is a part of every Revels. This particular celebration of the winter solstice has a Celtic flavor, which means jigs and reels, some wondrous step-dancing, Welsh tales and Hebridean lullabies along with the participatory carols, jolly wassails and mummers' plays that provide a universal continuity.

After five years of leadership, Revels founder John Langstaff has taken only a consulting role this year. But while the book is taken from Langstaff's original Cambridge production, Washington's Revels, under artistic director Terrence Tobias, seem not only confident, but exhilarated at stepping out on their own. Key traditions -- vivid costumes, excellent musicianship, impassioned singing and assorted morris men and women -- continue unabated.

The crowd-pleasers this year were the Erin Dancers and guest Regan Wick, whose vigorous step-dancing to assorted jigs, reels and hornpipes was astounding, at once liquid and staccato; the Celtic consort An Comhlann Ceolmhar and its fiddler Steve Hickman, whose work alternated between the sprightly and the ethereal; Clan Campbell's regal pipes and drums; the mummers' inventive straw costumes; and Linda Rice-Johnston, whose lullaby to her very real baby sounded like an overheard prayer.

There are Revels performances at Lisner Auditorium today at 3 and 8 p.m. and tomorrow at 2 and 7 p.m., with a few tickets available. The last words of the last song are, "The Lord increase you day by day and send you more and more." Maybe next year it could be a week's worth of Christmas Revels?.

Richard Harrington

Pieces of a Dream

It's a safe bet that when Pieces of a Dream played "Careless Whisper" at Blues Alley Wednesday night, it was the first time any group had performed a song by Wham! at the club. But then no one said this was going to be an evening of jazz.

Instead, the young trio of Philadelphians (accompanied by a keyboardist) offered up a danceable mixture of fusion and funky pop, not very original or daring but certainly not draggy, either.

During the group's early tours, keyboardist James Lloyd occasionally played straight-ahead jazz with drive and imagination. No doubt he still can. But now that bassist Cedric Napoleon has established himself as a vocalist -- and quite a good one at that -- the group's focus has shifted more toward the pop market. The occasional acoustic interlude has given way to more synthesized tracks, most of them underscored by Napoleon's rubbery grooves and drummer Curtis Harmon's strong backbeat. The engagement runs through tomorrow. Mike Joyce