Soulive at 9:30
The keyboard, guitar and drum group Soulive is elastic. Its jazzy R&B moves in various directions, based on who's sitting in. While the New York-based trio's studio albums can steer dangerously close to smooth jazz, its live shows are unpredictable, energy-filled and often doused with a heavy helping of funk.
On Friday night at the 9:30 club, the band members played just two songs by themselves before inviting a trumpet and saxophone player to join them onstage. They then showed their soulful side with the help of vocalist Reggie Watts.
Neal Evans manned the keys with one hand on a Hammond B-3 organ and the other alternating between two additional keyboards. Since the band doesn't have a bass player, he's often driving the bass line and playing lead. During the two-hour show, not only were his hands each doing something different, he was chewing gum and dancing, too.
He and electric guitarist Eric Krasno, whose solos have more of a rock edge, took turns in the lead. Evans's brother Alan, at the drum kit, led the band's complex rhythms -- sometimes in so many directions the crowd looked as if it couldn't figure out which way to move.
Vocalist Watts had warmed up the audience before the show with beat-boxing and political riffing; his soulful singing at times had a Lenny Kravitz quality. And while his stage presence was slightly sloppy, his range was impressive. He sang several originals, possibly written when his Seattle-based band Maktub opened for Soulive on its spring 2003 tour. He sometimes alternated between two microphones, singing his own backup through a mike washed with distortion.
For the encore, Alan Evans sang the hip-hop-flavored "Do It Again" and was rejoined by Watts, who got the audience to hoot and holler back.
-- Carrie Nieman
Joe Lovano at the Terrace Theater
Saxophonist Joe Lovano dedicated his nonet's performance Friday night at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater to drummer Elvin Jones, who died last week. His passing led to a significant change in the program: the inclusion of "After the Rain," in which drummer Billy Drummond evoked Jones's turbulent force and his pivotal association with John Coltrane's quartet. Nothing heard during the concert proved more dramatic, stirring or heartfelt.
The concert's principal focus, however, wasn't altered. The band paid homage to Miles Davis's landmark "Birth of the Cool" recording via three recently penned orchestrations by Gunther Schuller, who played on the original 1949 sessions. The tunes drawn from the recording -- "Moon Dreams," "Move" and "Boplicity" -- formed a short, multifaceted suite, variously marked by unfettered swing, robust bop-inspired horn alignments, sublime reed voicings and well-wrought solos.
Lovano may have set the tone for the concert with his imposing sound and harmonic assurance -- he explored the full range of his tenor with great force and finesse. But he was surrounded by top-tier jazz musicians who left distinctive impressions, including fellow reedmen Steve Slagle (on alto), Ralph Lalama (tenor) and Gary Smulyan (baritone). Indeed, the reeds and brass -- trumpeter Barry Ries and trombonist Larry Farrell -- were colorfully deployed throughout the concert, in aggregate and in solo settings.
Besides Drummond, the rhythm section boasted pianist James Weidman and bassist Dennis Irwin, who neatly underpinned the sophisticated horn charts. Not all the tunes were vintage, but each performance contributed to the extended standing ovation that came at evening's end.
-- Mike Joyce
Janis Ian at the Birchmere
In the film "Mean Girls," the nonconformist teen character played by actress Lizzy Caplan is named Janis Ian. At the Birchmere on Saturday, the real-life Ian said she's honored by the cinematic homage, and then showed that at 53, she's still fighting for outcasts of any age.
Ian performed "Matthew," a tune from her new CD, "Billie's Bones," which is meant as a memorial to Matthew Shepard, the 21-year-old gay man murdered in 1998. "It's not who you love, but whether you can, what makes a man a man," Ian sang. She also recently teamed up with another guitar-slinging proponent of the underdog, Woody Guthrie. At the urging of Guthrie's kin, Ian wrote a melody for lyrics that Guthrie had written about his ill mother. The result, "I Hear You Sing Again," makes listeners wish Ian and Guthrie, who died in 1967, could collaborate more often.
Ian clearly cherishes her reputation as a master of the downer song, but she's good for some chuckles, too. She ripped into Britney Spears for being so young and, well, Britneyesque. "I'm not jealous, I'm not envious. I just hate her," Ian said. Ian's proficiency as a guitarist, like her wit, is undernoticed. She stomped on as many special-effects pedals as a heavy-metal axman might, and flashed all the scrunchy-faced expressions a good shredder should, while fingering the fretboard during "Take No Prisoners."
She got plenty of vocal accompaniment from the crowd during "At Seventeen," her signature 1975 tune about teen angst and acne, given new life with its inclusion on the "Mean Girls" soundtrack. On this night, the song had mostly middle-aged men jumping to their feet screaming thanks. Ian said she likes to end concerts with a "traditional folk song." She then broke into "I Got You Babe," the Sonny and Cher theme. "Kumbaya" it wasn't, but the desired singalong took place.
-- Dave McKenna
Maysa at the Birchmere
It's been more than a decade since Baltimore-based singer Maysa Leak established herself as the voice behind the success of the funk-jazz fusion band Incognito. And based on her performance Saturday night at the Birchmere, time has only honed the singer's knack at absorbing rhythmic messages and translating them on her own vocal terms.
Opening with a spirited interpretation of Gil Scott-Heron's "The Bottle," the singer spun through lean funk and edgy soul-inflected melodies tinted by extended scatting that, although delivered as if an afterthought, hit the mark with precision.
Band and backup singers provided capable support throughout, with David Wells's alternating tenor sax and wind synthesizer solos eliciting resounding approval from the near-capacity crowd. Still, the set's most commanding moments came when the singer was sparely accompanied.
Although the overbearing sound system virtually rendered the players' efforts an enveloping clamor, Maysa readily maneuvered around the din. The singer's lofty urgency on the piece "Aria" (an arresting display of her operatic training) was nearly as rousing as her reading of the graceful ballad "Shadows and the Light."
The singer closed out the evening with the soul-flavored acid-jazz number that launched her career, "Deep Waters."
-- Phyllis Croom