Guitarist John Pizzarelli drew nearly as much laughter as applause at the Birchmere on Sunday night, which is saying a lot.
Sometimes he was self-deprecatingly droll, as when he referred to one of his albums as having "taken the world by drizzle." But more often he was just flat-out funny, and never more so than when he performed "I Like Jersey Best" while alternately mimicking Bob Dylan, the Beach Boys, Billie Holiday, Sting and many others.
Still, those who came to hear Pizzarelli's quartet breeze through classic pop, jazz and bossa nova tunes got their money's worth. The bandleader's guitar playing was nothing short of superb. Challenging harmonic shifts and dashing single-note runs fell into place without a hint of effort or strain. Pop novelties and dreamy ballads served his crooning tenor well, and a brief cameo by singer Daniel Jobim, grandson of Antonio Carlos Jobim, helped pave the way for a romantic Brazilian excursion.
Earlier, British singer and pianist Jamie Cullum led his trio through an unlikely assortment of jazz, pop, rock and original tunes, saluting Cole Porter, Jimi Hendrix and Radiohead along the way. Cullum's talent and charm were evident. He has a tuneful voice, an engaging if highly caffeinated personality, and a flair for songwriting. But what stood out more was his passion for flamboyant, rock-inspired gestures -- thunderous crescendos, keyboard-zipping flourishes and sprints across the stage.
-- Mike Joyce
Washington Symphonic Brass
Big band, symphonic and choral music took on bold sonic colors at Sunday's concert by the 18-member Washington Symphonic Brass conducted by Milton Stevens. Quartets of horns, trumpets and trombones, a tuba, plus timpani, a percussion trio and a pianist took the stage at National Presbyterian Church, opening with a dance-bandish arrangement of Chick Corea's classic "Spain (I Can Recall)" that vibrated with the mega-force of the big bang up and around the spacious sanctuary. Riffy solo elaborations by Martin Hackleman on horn and Phil Snedecor on trumpet filled the air with distinctly brass staccato-tongued syncopations and swooping pitches.
The players ventured into panoramic breadth with Eric Ewazen's "Symphony in Brass." While you couldn't miss the music's pleasant outdoorsiness, suggesting a summer-Sunday-in-the-park band concert with toddlers running amok, the piece is also an elegant study in molten symphonic skyscapes. It was performed with superb solos and powerful ensemble playing.
Vocal resonance wafted through brass versions of excerpts from Joseph Jay McIntyre's "Missa Brevis"; Morten Lauridsen's "O Magnum Mysterium," a motetlike work of Wagnerian opulence; and Rodolfo's mournful aria "Che gelida manina" from Puccini's "La Boheme." Carl Orff's brawny choral titan "Carmina Burana," beloved by some listeners (but not all) for its faux-medieval primitivism, ended things with a blast.
-- Cecelia Porter