Frank Black At the 9:30 Club

Frank Black has never really had a hit, but that didn't seem to worry the man or the fans who filled the 9:30 club Saturday night--and who seemed to know his work chapter and verse. Black's music resists snappy categorization: While some of it seems like punk rock interpreted by talented musicians, some seems like pop that's just a bit too smart for radio.

The crowd was treated to an even mix of old songs and new. Black started with "Man of Steel," a song he originally recorded for an "X-Files" tribute album, and worked in stunning performances of "Bad Harmony" and "Skeleton Man" from his new album, "Pistolero." He also threw out a few surprises, including "Wave of Mutilation" from his days with his legendary old band the Pixies, and a cover of Del Shannon's oldie "Sister Isabelle," with which Black finished the evening.

Opening act Reid Paley faced a tough, impatient crowd. Alone with his guitar, Paley sang a set full of nihilistic rants and generally came across like a young Tom Waits. He seemed to win a few fans early on, but earned heckles when his mid-song dramatic pauses came up too long and too often for the crowd's taste.

By the time he reached his last piece, "You're not cool!" was actually one of the kinder critiques thrown his way. Impressively, the guy kept his cool, chiding the crowd for being too "sensitive" and excusing himself from the stage.

Capital Composers Alliance At Catholic University

Contemporary composers--the kind who live and breathe, who stand next to you at the grocery store--are an anonymous lot. The grim economics of the business are simple: When contemporary works are programmed, audiences evaporate. Saturday night at Catholic University, the Capital Composers Alliance--a laudable if threadbare organization dedicated to showcasing contemporary compositions--featured works of five composers based in the area.

Pianist Brian Ganz played two virtuoso pieces with enormous power, gripping intensity, magnificent scope and unfailing accuracy. His Gatling-gun virtuosity alone made the evening worthwhile, but Lawrence Moss's "Racconto," in its American premiere, was rhythmically eruptive and full of nap, fiber and arresting textures. Better still was Andrew Simpson's "Flower--Terrible Memories," a large-scale work loaded with pianistic effects. Ganz attacked the flanking movements with virile ferocity and gave the aristocratic tenderness of the slow movement its full measure. It's a wonderful piece.

Anthony Stark played his own "Suite Number Too"--a set of six slight but evocative waltzes, cleverly harmonized. Haskell Small's "A Game of Go" for two pianos (Small and Betty Ann Miller performed) was lost on this listener; Peter Knell's Piano Sonata No. 1, played by Simpson, was dull and derivative.

Pianist Abdullah Ibrahim At Carter Barron

It was a relief that pianist Abdullah Ibrahim played such a cool set at Rock Creek Park's Carter Barron Amphitheatre on Saturday night; the muggy weather was hot enough. The evening, dubbed "Ode to Ellington," was part of District Curators' Jazz Arts summer festival and the Duke's centennial celebration.

It also featured sweet-natured performances by the Levine School of Music Jazz Ensemble and "Sweet Thunder," a graceful dance interpretation of Ellington's "La Plus Belle Africaine" performed by Dionne Figgins and Derrick Spears of the Dance Institute of Washington. The big attraction was the U.S. debut of Ibrahim's tribute to his mentor Ellington, "African Suite," featuring his trio--bassist Beldon Bullock and drummer George Gray--and the Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra.

A busy left hand and a percussive approach to melody often define Ibrahim's playing, but sitting stage right of the orchestra seemed to influence his style. The pianist played sparsely beautiful melody lines over the lush, slow strings of the orchestra with Mother Nature (lightning, light rain, crickets) accompanying.

Despite the title, the eight sections of "African Suite" sounded like European film music rather than sounds inspired by Ibrahim's native South Africa. With the audience taking cover from the drizzle, the orchestra and "Suite" finished, and the stagehands breaking down microphones and music stands, the trio played a languid series of tunes linked by a simple melody that Ibrahim continually and hypnotically reworked.