Gipsy Kings at Wolf Trap
Tuesday night's drenching storm presented the Gipsy Kings with a hard act to follow at Wolf Trap: The storm soaked the lawn crowd and triggered squealing ovations with every clap of thunder and flash of lightning.
Still, the torrent didn't overpower the French ensemble's intensely percussive and festive sound. Driven by a small arsenal of acoustic guitars and frequently colored by flamenco flourishes and rumba rhythms, the concert offered a broad overview of the group's recordings, from its folk moorings to its embrace of Afro-Caribbean grooves and fusion-jazz improvisations.
"Roots," the ensemble's latest CD, inspired the visuals -- a rotating series of vintage black-and-white photos of Gypsy life served as a backdrop -- as well as some of the performances, including "Amigo," "Petite Noya" and "Como Siento Yo." But the instrumentation was more in keeping with the band's older recordings, prominently featuring drums, congas, electric bass and keyboards. As always, lead guitarist Tonino Baliardo was the principal soloist; favoring a bright tone and staccato attack, he showered the arrangements with sparkling melodies and dramatic flights.
Yet the heart and soul of the band remains lead singer Nicolas Reyes, who can make even the simplest folk refrain sound like a stirring incantation. He and his band mates kept the hits coming, including immensely crowd-pleasing, if not entirely faithful, versions of "Baila Me," Djobi, Djoba" and "Bamboleo." Every now and then, when the mood turned sensuous, a female fan was invited onstage to dance -- and they couldn't have responded more eagerly if they were paid shills.
-- Mike Joyce
Leon Russell at Jammin' Java
As if on cue, the heavens opened up, thunder roared and lightning streaked across the black sky as Leon Russell, the self-proclaimed "master of space and time," strolled through the entrance of Vienna's Jammin' Java Tuesday night. The audience at the sold-out club rose and parted to permit the regal, white-maned, white-bearded 64-year-old rock-and-roll eminence to take his throne -- actually a small wooden chair -- behind his electric piano on stage.
Backed by a powerhouse blues rock trio and accompanied on vocals by his daughters Tina Rose and Sugaree Noel, Russell kicked off with a double-time version of "Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms" and finished, as if in a race, 90 minutes later with a double-time version of "Kansas City."
Not once did Russell acknowledge the crowd, or the musicians for that matter, until three-quarters of the way through the set, when he paused after "Delta Lady" to introduce the band. Before that, the longest break was about the length of a half-stop. A Leon Russell set is 100 percent about the music -- his and that of others he helped create as a sideman or producer: "Lady Blue," "Wild Horses," a snippet of "Jumpin' Jack Flash," "Sixteen Tons," "A Song for You," "Hummingbird."
Sitting that close in the intimate confines of Jammin' Java to a legendary player seemed transcendent for some, but ultimately the show was as dry as the night outside was wet. The songs, though played with undeniable skill and energy, were never put into context. If you had no idea of Russell's history, you would have thought he was trying to keep the party going with Rolling Stones covers instead of reminding us that he was a hired hand in the band at one time.
-- Buzz McClain