Roberta Flack at
The Kennedy Center "I'm home, I'm home, I'm home!" Roberta Flack exclaimed Monday night from the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage. The Grammy-winning singer, who performed on Capitol Hill and taught English in the District long before becoming an international pop star, was greeted by an overflow crowd that turned out to hear her and the Georgetown University Gospel and Chapel Choirs commemorate the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr.
The free concert opened with stirring choral performances that were alternately driven by pianist Leviticus Thomas, the Gospel Choir's musical director, and by the African-derived polyrhythms emphasized by the Chapel Choir. For Flack, the occasion instantly triggered a rush of memories. She recalled being on the Mall when King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech, 40 years ago this year, and spoke movingly of her travels to her ancestral homeland, including a visit to the slave dungeons in Ghana and, years later, an encounter in South Africa with Nelson Mandela. To Flack's amazement, Mandela explained how listening to the music she recorded with Donny Hathaway helped save his life.
She later alluded to her friendship with Hathaway by soulfully reprising his blues "Trying Times," which served as a companion piece to Marvin Gaye's "Mercy Mercy Me" and the antiwar ballad "Business Goes On as Usual." A Brazilian-tinged take on "Killing Me Softly With His Song" and a Middle Eastern-inspired version of the Beatles' "In My Life" delighted the huge crowd as well (though the latter tune's arrangement swiftly wore thin). In the end, nothing proved more spiritually rousing or appropriate than hearing Flack and her versatile six-piece band perform "Oh Freedom" with both choirs during the terrific finale.
-- Mike Joyce
Johnny Marr and the Healers
At the Black Cat
At the Black Cat Monday night, Johnny Marr might not have seemed much different from the last time he performed in Washington, 16 years ago: leather jacket, longish dark-brown shag haircut, gum-chewing guitar-hero insouciance. This time, though, the former Smiths guitarist was at the center of the stage, singing and playing his own songs with his own band, the Healers.
Marr's reputation was enough to draw some 500 people to the club, but most of them didn't know exactly what to expect. Marr and the Healers' debut album, "Boomslang," won't be released for another two weeks, although one of its songs, "Down on the Corner," was previewed on a recent Neil Finn live album. The Healers' lively performance didn't disappoint, however. Marr remains a model of the versatile, economical rock guitarist -- more George Harrison than Joe Satriani -- and the rest of the band (which includes drummer Zak Starkey) was precise and muscular.
Still, it can't be said that Marr is a distinctive new voice, either as a singer or a songwriter. The Healers' material -- leaner than on the CD, but still densely textured -- is basically a set of genre exercises: the bluesy vamp ("Long Gone"), the disco rocker ("You Are the Magic"), the rockabilly stomp ("Need It") and so on. Those blank titles suggest how little Marr's lyrics share with those of his Smiths writing partner, Morrissey, who penned the words to songs including "Girlfriend in a Coma" and "Shoplifters of the World Unite." If Marr hasn't mastered lyrics, however, he definitely understands sound. Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right," the set's near-solo showcase, suited his reedy voice very nicely.
-- Mark Jenkins
Radu Lupu at
The Landon School Like the priceless statues of his compatriot Constantin Brancusi, the piano playing of Radu Lupu soars like a glistening needle pointing toward infinity. At the Landon School in Bethesda on Monday evening, the renowned Romanian musician gave an exquisite recital that included towering masterworks of Beethoven, Debussy and Schubert.
The two hallmarks of Lupu's playing, a thunderous technique and an acute sense of timing, were apparent in Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 30 in E, Op. 109. Lupu patiently developed the opening movement, carefully balancing the voices and creating room for the shimmering textures to emerge. While the prestissimo was all fire and storm, the closing variations were crisp and glowing, intelligent and heartfelt.
In excerpts from Book 1 of Claude Debussy's abstrusely named but gorgeous "Preludes," Lupu brought more finesse, subtly shaping every note. Yet the large sound was never far away, and several of the preludes made one reconsider the impressionist label often attached to Debussy's music.
Lupu displayed spectacular musicality in Schubert's Sonata in A, D. 959, delicately combining the adamant and lyrical subjects of the first movement. Lupu came off as a sonic explorer in the Andante, probing the nether reaches of sound. The sheer splendor and verve were matched only in the finale, where he brought out rich underlying colors that belied the movement's surface directness. The codas at the end of the first and fourth movements stood like the snowy caps of majestic mountain peaks.
-- Daniel Ginsberg