Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra
At Kennedy Center At the outset of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra's performance at the Kennedy Center on Sunday afternoon, trumpeter and bandleader Wynton Marsalis fessed up. The ensemble, having just flown back from London, was a bit disoriented.
No matter. Presented by the Washington Performing Arts Society, the concert was soon distinguished by a series of crisply executed arrangements -- old and new, intimate and expansive. The vintage works included an ingenious big-band chart of Ravel's "Bolero," devised by Fletcher Henderson for Benny Goodman's outfit, while the more recent compositions included "Jump" and "The Caboose," two evocative train travelogues conceived by Marsalis and marked by chugging rhythms, piercing whistles and whooshing brakes.
At one end of the sonic spectrum was "Single Petal of a Rose," an alluring duet featuring reedman Joe Temperley (on bass clarinet) and pianist Richard Johnson. At the other were multifaceted pieces composed by Hank Mobley (the Art Blakey-inspired "Hank's Symphony"), Charles Mingus ("Meditations on Integration") and John Coltrane ("Song of the Underground Railroad"). The Mingus contribution, with its eruption of discordant voices, and the Coltrane piece, vigorously fueled by Walter Blanding Jr. on tenor sax, generated some of the most stirring music. Trombonist Ron Westray and reedman Ted Nash, both arrangers for LCJO, deserve a lot of credit for adding fresh color and depth to the ensemble's repertoire.
As for Marsalis, he seldom sounded better than when he was mining the blues with a plunger mute in hand. And he was happy to leave the sky-scraping trumpet parts to his young colleague, Seneca Black. "You don't see old people play that," Marsalis joked. "We play low. Every breath is precious."
-- Mike Joyce
CrossCurrents Dance Company
At Dance Place CrossCurrents Dance Company is at cross purposes with its mission to present dance that is poignant, intimate and passionate. Saturday at Dance Place, the longtime local company presented a program that, while not unpleasant, didn't make the heart race, either.
Certainly a great deal of care and passion goes into conceiving the dances. Program notes on the new works spoke of "learning to let go" ("Sweet Release" by company artistic co-director Debra Kanter) and exploring Americana ("American Songbook" by Alvin Mayes). Balzac was quoted: "The heart of a mother is a deep abyss at the bottom of which you will always find forgiveness" ("Abyss" by Mayes, danced by former Lar Lubovitch Dance Company member Elisa Clark). Yet once the new ideas and music are devised, the choreographers revert to familiar movement formulas. The dance ends up being predictable and dispassionate, and there's too wide a gulf between what's intended and what's presented.
This disconnect is maddening, as the company has energy, commitment and heart, and it works with local choreographers to bring new works to life -- a generosity that is part of the Washington dance scene.
The company did spark in Cathy Paine's 1991 "A Flight of Angels," in which the quintet of dancers moved with the synchronism of a flock of birds dipping and flipping directions. Among the standouts of the program were two soundtracks. "Abyss" featured pop styling (in English) of lieder, which was bold but way off base. Rhythmically strong music by John Adams (an excerpt from "Shaker Loops") held promise, choreographically unfulfilled, for the "small, intricate and busy sea creatures" in "Through Pores of Oceans and Shores."
-- Pamela Squires
David Gray at Patriot Center David Gray is a leading purveyor of what could be dubbed arena folk. That genre would include performers such as Sarah McLachlan and Tori Amos, who sing words as personal as any found in folk over musical arrangements as grandiose as anything in arena rock.
One problem with the genre, as evidenced by Gray's confoundingly tedious Sunday-night show at the Patriot Center, is that no matter how sweeping the chord changes, intimate lyrics don't translate to an arena setting. This problem becomes most obvious when the crowd doesn't come to the venue knowing all the words, as was the case for much of Gray's Fairfax set, which was front-loaded with material from his latest CD, "A New Day at Midnight." The English tenor worked up quite a sweat trying to induce enthusiasm for new, very melodic tunes including "Dead in the Water" and "Freedom."
Someday, they'll sweat along with him. But on this night, the fans only stirred for that which they knew by heart, which meant nuggets from Gray's breakout disc, "White Ladder." "This Year's Love," which he banged out on a grand piano at the back of the stage, induced a singalong among the mostly female and collegiate crowd during both its tender verse ("And won't you kiss me / On that midnight street / Sweep me off my feet") and oft-screamed chorus ("This year's love had better last!"). But that sort of vocal feedback proved brief and atypical.
Gray made several remarks about how disappointed he was by the lack of response -- "You seem consciously quiet for Americans," he said before the obligatory delivery of his smash, "Babylon" -- and railed against fans either for not standing up or for standing up to leave before show's end. You couldn't blame him, or the early risers.
-- Dave McKenna
Washington Bach Consort
At Schlesinger Hall Those entering Schlesinger Hall in Alexandria on Sunday afternoon may not have realized it, but they were about to experience two concerts for the price of one.
Washington Bach Consort Music Director J. Reilly Lewis devoted the first half of the program to a single, massive work for solo harpsichord: J.S. Bach's "Goldberg" Variations. The second half of the afternoon dramatically contrasted the recital atmosphere with the composer's lighthearted "Peasant" Cantata.
The "Goldberg" Variations, BWV 988, Aria With 30 Variations, as it is more officially known, is said to have been commissioned to ease the insomnia of Count Keyserlingk of Dresden. The count's private harpsichordist, Johann Goldberg, is the source of the piece's name.
The hour-plus work is far from soporific, particularly as interpreted by Lewis. His passion for the composer and the work was apparent and allowed him to draw a great deal of emotion out of the harpsichord. Lewis elicited a range of styles from the opening aria to the liveliest variation.
The "Peasant" Cantata, BWV 212, provided the variety that the audience craved. Its libretto describes a courting couple ostensibly praising the new squire while flirting with each other. The work for soprano, baritone and chamber orchestra was delightfully produced with costumed singers and dramatic action, staged as a mini concert opera. Soprano Kate Vetter Cain's performance sparkled with her playful demeanor, and baritone James Weaver's was convincing. The instrumentalists, led by violinist Risa Browder, captured perfectly the country nature of the Overture and were generally sensitive accompanists.
-- Gail Wein
Richard Goode at the Landon School I last heard pianist Richard Goode a few years ago, when he was bedeviled by his own performance of a late Beethoven sonata. He stopped in the middle, told the audience he could "play it better," regrouped, then swept regally through the entire sonata with implacable concentration and steel.
Goode brought the same fierce commitment to his recital Sunday afternoon at the Landon School. His technique remains unobtrusive but quietly commanding and fused inseparably to purely musical concerns. Dances (pavanes and galliards) from William Byrd's "My Ladye Nevell's Booke" were lovingly caressed, but Goode's concert grand obliterated their modal charms, leaving only a blank elegance that quickly paled. Goode caught the high drama of Mozart's A-minor Sonata, K. 310, exploiting the dissonance of the first movement at a true maestoso tempo, holding pedal points exquisitely in the slow movement, and blazing through the last movement with thunderous dynamics and orchestral color. He was equally authoritative in Beethoven's Sonata in A, Op. 101. Although other pianists have found more exuberance and mirth in it, Goode exploited the outer limits of its freewheeling drama and rugged volatility.
Goode played Chopin's Polonaise-Fantaisie, Op. 61, as a sweet reminiscence and a true fantasy, holding its mercurial changes of key, its episodic fits and starts, in a gentle equilibrium of refined touch. Goode's Debussy -- "Soiree dans Grenade" and four Preludes -- was spare, beautifully brushed and pointed, and spontaneously expressive within a rhythmically exact compass.
-- Ronald Broun