Rhythmic clapping and spontaneous shouts of joy don't normally punctuate performances in the Kennedy Center's Concert Hall, but the audience at "Awesome Praise 3," held in that august venue Monday evening, understandably couldn't help itself. The free concert brought ensembles and soloists from Africa, England and the United States together, partly to plug organizer Olawale Opayinka's 3E Foundation but mostly to celebrate the Word with myriad forms of gospel music.
Unfortunately, the devil proved to be in the performance details. Microphones screeched or crackled. The amplified balance at one point favored lone saxophonist Mike Aremu over the entire Saint Augustine Gospel Choir. The Agape Divine Intervention Choir's infectious singing was compromised by distractingly sloppy choreography and close miking that made ululations feel like lacerations. The Vision Mime Ministries danced not to music made by the other performers but to recordings, which led to the Britney Spearsy sight of putative mimes lip-syncing to music they could not possibly have sung while dancing so vigorously.
A few performances provided unblemished uplift. Olufunmi praised Jesus in her clear, rich voice-over beats drawn from R&B, African music and Latin dance, showing fluency and charisma in all styles. Aremu began his lengthy sax solo with a roiling ostinato, then drove on to an infectious, chant-led funk groove. And the finale brought all the musicians on stage for a truly overwhelming performance of Kurt Carr's "We Offer You Praise," fulfilling the promise of bringing musicians from such different traditions together: to make a joyful noise unto the Lord that reflected and inspired awe.
-- Andrew Lindemann Malone