Hot Tuna and Johnny Winter
Fans of Hot Tuna and Johnny Winter packed the Warner Theatre Friday night for what turned out to be a marathon session of acoustics and electric blues.
Along with Jefferson Airplane founder Paul Kantner, Hot Tuna's Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady opened the show by combining rolling bass lines with the fingerstyle blues of the Rev. Gary Davis and others. Casady, on acoustic bass guitar, set up the kind of entrancing rhythms any fan of the Grateful Dead could appreciate -- and there were, to be sure, plenty of Deadheads on hand. Kaukonen's crisp and often infectious versions of several East Coast blues tunes, including "Hesitation Blues" and "Truckin' My Blues," offered a nice contrast to Kantner's more contemporary folk and political leanings and such rock classics as "Volunteers."
After solving some equipment problems, Winter played at a breathless tempo for more than 90 minutes. Flamboyant as ever, he fired off one searing guitar solo after another -- the crunching sound offset by the fundamental thump of bass and drums and inspired by both Texas and Chicago blues traditions. Though Winter has played some acoustic slide guitar on recent albums, he stuck with the electric slide in concert and often evoked the raucous style of Elmore James. Only "Please Come Home for Christmas," the first of Winter's encores, resembled anything approaching a real ballad. Otherwise, it was pedal to the metal time.
-- Mike Joyce
Theater Chamber Players
From far offstage a hypnotic drone grew louder until Gregory O'Brien appeared in full regalia with his Highland pipe to fill the Terrace Theater with the stirring "Failte: an t-Siosalaich" ("Welcome: Chisholm's Salute"). These intricate mutations of a simple theme -- the 17th-century answer to new age music -- were but one sample of festival music presented by the Theater Chamber Players of Kennedy Center Saturday night.
In the title aria of Bach's thrilling cantata "Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen," soprano Phyllis Bryn-Julson's fioratura beautifully matched the elegant trumpet of Emerson Head. The recitative and gentle triple-time aria "Ho chster, mache deine Gu te" was even more impressive, showing Bryn-Julson's exquisite control of the higher registers -- not an easy feat for a voice of her depth.
Gordon Hawkins' creamy rich baritone, James McDonald's expressive tenor and the vibrant countertenor of Derek Lee Ragin created elegant kings for Benjamin Britten's moving "Canticle IV: The Journey of the Magi." Medieval English carols also suited, but with Bryn-Julson the vocal diversity overwhelmed Orlandus Lassus' intricate quartet "Carmina Chromatico."
The program included a virtuoso Purcell trumpet sonata and a Haydn trio weakened by Hyo Kang's loose violin playing. The austere Terrace stage and the usual movement of furniture diminished the festive atmosphere. A more integrated arrangement would have been welcome. -- Ed Roberts
The Smith Sisters
During their engaging show at the Birchmere Saturday night, the Smith Sisters alluded to the increasing popularity of sibling acts in country music. "But Debi and I were doing it before it was cool," quipped Megan.
Like the best sibling groups, the Smiths have been singing together so long that their voices merge in effortless and graceful harmony on nearly everything they sing. Their twin sopranos gave songs like "Bye Bye Love" a vibrant edge, and Debi's lead vocals were at times poignantly expressive, especially on a lovely new song called "Crazy Over You." It helped, of course, that backing the duo were some of the area's finest acoustic musicians, including multi-instrumentalist Pete Kennedy and Mike Stein. Along with drummer John Greely and pedal steel guitarist Danny Pendleton, they embellished with verve, color and taste.
At the moment, the Smiths' repertoire is an appealing mixture of original material and favorites by Guy Clark and the like that they've collected over the years. While touring the country recently, though, the duo discovered some fine new songs that are likely to pop up on their next album.
-- Mike Joyce
National Musical Arts
If chamber music, as some have said, is a conversation among friends, then Saturday's concert at the National Academy of Sciences was certainly friendly, if not lucid.
Members of National Musical Arts opened with Dvorak's Terzetto in C Major (Op. 74). Violinists Paul Kantor and Rebecca Culnan and guest violist Melissa Micciche chatted musically through the four movements, concerned less with substantive issues than repartee`. Then Culnan teamed with Patricia Gray for Debussy's Sonate pour Violon et Piano (1917), but the composer's lingua franca posed problems for them, both in volume and inflection.
The program's second half brought out the most cogent performance in Robert Schumann's Piano Quintet in E-flat Major (Op. 44), particularly from cellist David Teie. As in the concert's earlier works, though, multisyllable phrases troubled the players; even Gray misstated the technical Agitato. Still, the violinists' foot tapping in the last movement infected many in the sizable crowd, a testament to the group's emphatic delivery.
-- Vincent Patterson