Those fans who came to Wolf Trap on Wednesday to hear tunes from when Linda Ronstadt wore satin short shorts and roller skates -- and the place teemed with 'em -- went away disappointed.
True, Ronstadt is touring not with a rock band but with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. And it's been years since Ronstadt, who turns 58 this month, hit the airwaves with anything modern and poppy. But an emcee misled the crowd, much of which was in formal attire befitting the venue's annual gala night performance, by announcing that she'd sing "all of her hits." Ronstadt all but seconded that pledge upon taking the stage.
However, the singer ended up using her still-gorgeous voice almost exclusively on standards of an earlier era: "Someone to Watch Over Me," "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered," "Lush Life" and so on. Though she sounded fine, Ronstadt looked nervous and uncomfortable. She stood in the same spot at the center of the stage for most of the show and barely even bobbed her head to the music. Every few seconds she'd look down at the floor, as if cribbing the next lyric from the monitor at her feet.
The audience never warmed to the oldest stuff. But after she cooed through Smokey Robinson's "Oooh, Baby Baby," a fan near the stage screamed, "We're ready!," apparently begging Ronstadt to continue serving up such familiar dishes. Instead, she delivered a trio of lesser-known Jimmy Webb works that roused nobody. Many folks had left by the time she ended her main set with "Blue Bayou."
The biggest excitement of the night, by a long shot, came when Ronstadt then dedicated her encore of "Desperado" to filmmaker Michael Moore, kick-starting a boo-cheer competition throughout the venue that drowned out her singing and left grown-ups in tuxes and evening gowns yelling at each other on their way to the parking lot.
-- Dave McKenna
T.K. Blue, who performed at Blues Alley on Wednesday night, is better known to some jazz listeners as Talib Kibwe, the saxophonist-flutist who's worked closely with pianists Randy Weston and Abdullah Ibrahim. Having frequently enhanced their explorations of African music, Blue is now doing the same on his own recordings.
"Rhythm in Blue," the reedman's new CD, was the focus of his quartet's opening set at the Georgetown club. The first two pieces, "Township Diary" and "Hillbrow Vibes," reflected Blue's travels to South Africa in different ways. The former boasted the sunny disposition of a Hugh Masekela tune, while the latter, distinguished by a corkscrew melody and off-center cadences, frequently showcased the bristling interaction among pianist James Weidman, electric bass guitarist Alex Blake and drummer Lenny Robinson.
Playing soprano sax early on, Blue avoided the strident tones often associated with the instrument and improvised fluidly over Robinson's rumbling syncopations. His tone grew warmer and more soulful after Weidman established an elegiac mood with his lovely solo preface to "A Single Tear of Remembrance."
The show wasn't entirely devoted to original compositions. The pop standard "Angel Eyes" inspired an intimate, but certainly not overly polite, pairing of piano and alto sax. Yet it was the self-penned themes that stood out. Among them were "The Caribbean Express" (a calypso-charged celebration of Blue's West Indies roots) and the flute-limned ballad "Pinnacle of Joy." Weidman's percussive attack, Blake's darting improvisations and Robinson's deft use of sticks and mallets made the evening all the more enjoyable.
-- Mike Joyce