The audio buffet that Cibo Matto whipped up Saturday night at the 9:30 club was for the most part delicious, with only a few of the items needing more spice. The New York band, led by keyboardist Yuka Honda and singer Miho Hatori, has evolved from a charming low-fi rap duo into a confident quintet.
The set was anchored by the percolating bass of Sean Lennon (yes, that Lennon), who locked and unlocked with drummer Timo Ellis and forceful percussionist Duma Love. Honda's keyboards became the focus, allowing Cibo Matto (Italian for "food madness") to shape songs like Play-Doh.
The opening "Sunday," Parts 1 and 2, was a prime example: The first section's insouciant hip-hop squeezed into the airy lounge of the second. "Spoon" burbled joyously and Ellis slammed drum 'n' bass figures in "Working for Vacation" while the tiny Hatori bounded about the stage like a loose spring. Only the too-smooth tones of "Moonchild" and "Speechless" were ordinary, lacking Honda's and Hatori's flavorful personalities.
When the group turned to the culinary cult classics of earlier pieces, the crowd bounced into the dizzying end sequence, featuring "Beef Jerky," "Know Your Chicken," "Sugar Water," "Earth Threat" and "Birthday Cake," which brought support act Solex onstage for a pogoing free-for-all.
Solex's Elisabeth Esselink and her drummer and guitarist made the band an invigorating tangle of raw organ, shifting beats and fractured noise that recalled arty experimentalists This Heat.
Friday night, Bobby Short appeared at the only repository of knowledge about American popular song bigger than himself: the Library of Congress. Tucked into Coolidge Auditorium, Short, with a six-piece horn "orchestra" plus his longtime sidemen--drummer Klaus Suonsaari and bassist Frank Tate--inaugurated the "I Hear American Singing" series in honor of the library's centennial.
He proved a stellar choice. For some 60 years, many at the Cafe Carlyle in New York, Short has poured himself into the fabric of American song so thoroughly that he's become a substantial part of it. His program, rooted in giants of Ellingtonian stature but spiced with some obscure numbers, made two hours seemed like 15 minutes.
Still radiant at 75, the natty Short, with his trademark roller-coaster vocals and razor-sharp diction, sparkled on the Gershwins' "Crazy for You," stomped on "Guess Who's in Town" and smoldered on "Body and Soul," which hung in the air like exhaled smoke. He played scholar, too, including little-known verses from "I Can't Get Started" and "Things Are Looking Up" while tossing in gems like "At the Animals' Ball," which he said Louis Armstrong loved as a child. Later, when the rollicking blues "Romance in the Dark" earned a standing ovation, he squeaked, "I feel like Mick Jagger!"
As is often the case, Cole Porter brought out the best in Short. "Rap Tap on Wood" shimmered, and though he scoffed that it was "Just One of Those Things," it was clear that Friday's affair was one unique history trip.
James River Singers
Since the group's founding in 1995, the James River Singers have developed into a well-balanced, accurate ensemble with the ability to weightlessly sustain a complicated phrase--virtues that were in evidence Sunday when the 36-voice chamber chorus brought a program of High Renaissance sacred music to St. Matthew's Cathedral. These are exactly the qualities that allow polyphony to sound coherent and, had the acoustics of St. Matthew's been kinder, people sitting behind the first couple of rows might have had a chance to hear some of what was going on.
The program brought together most of the big names in 16th- and early 17th-century church music, with Josquin and Palestrina represented by several pieces each, and there were a couple of chants whose melodies provided thematic material for several motets that sounded glorious (if you were sitting up front). Duets from Josquin's "Missa Pange Lingua" were sung with poise and agility by soprano Joanne Sherman and alto Sharon Manson, and by tenor Robert Peterman with bass Clint Miller. The men's duo, in particular, was able to float its lines without vibrato or any sense of ever touching ground.
The evening's best singing came in the three works by English composers--in Parsons's "Ave Maria," where the ascending soprano line, projected quietly and without any strain, lit up the ensemble; in Byrd's "Sing Joyfully," bouncing with energy; and in Tallis's incomparable "Lamentations of Jeremiah," Part 1, where the choral warmth was particularly welcome.
What conductor Thomas Colohan and his Richmond-based group seem to be lacking at this point is a sense of the music's drama. They are treating this wonderful repertoire with such respect that it sounds a little monochromatic. A little less awe and little more love might do it a world of good.