And George Clinton
Bernie Worrell and George Clinton have to be the coolest dudes to ever set foot in Falls Church. And the duo who penned Parliament's immortal "Chocolate City" 30 years ago came together in the vanilla suburbs for a one-time show at the State Theatre Thursday night, an affair that burbled with high-spirited camaraderie and quickly dissolved into a very loose, but entertaining, jam.
The gig was originally slated as a headline date for Worrell's Woo Warriors, but the addition of Clinton made sense, given that Worrell has made his name (and his way into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) by being one of the greatest keyboard sidemen ever. And the best moments of Thursday's show came when Clinton was roaming the stage, singing when he felt like it and generally inciting mayhem while Worrell orchestrated matters from behind his towering banks of keyboards and Moog synths. And the large crowd didn't seem to mind that the evening's highlights consisted of swipes at Parliament-Funkadelic songs that often sounded more like cosmic slop than one band under a groove.
Still, Worrell's playing alone was worth the ticket price, and bassist Donna McPherson and new guitarist John Hickey managed to hold the Warriors together. But the 64-year-old Clinton still has great charisma, and the assembled simply went nuts as he lead them in P-Funk chants (as with many of his song titles, unsuitable for a family newspaper) and didn't really care if he frequently had to bend over to catch his breath.
-- Patrick Foster
'A Cicada Serenade'
Just when you thought it was all over till 2021, "Emergence: A Cicada Serenade" itself emerged Thursday night, weeks after the last of Brood X vanished from earshot. But no matter: The musical composition, performed outdoors at Strathmore in North Bethesda, was accompanied by the chirping of the annual cicada, a close substitute.
With its shifting moods and genres, the work for seven winds and strings was like a film score for the life cycle of the 17-year cicada. Its cinematic flavor probably stemmed from the fact that the composer, Silver Spring's David Kane, makes his living writing music for National Geographic and other video productions. The section "Looking for Love" had the swagger of a confident adolescent, capturing echoes of "West Side Story." Punctuated by whimsical percussion effects ably handled by Tom Jones, the piece ended with a small bell struck periodically 17 times as Jones slowly exited the stage.
Commissioned by Strathmore, this insect tribute was the centerpiece of an imaginative program consisting of music relating to bugs or beasts. Particularly pleasing was Ralph Vaughan Williams's "Lark Ascending," played by violinist John Hughes and pianist Naoko Takao. It was a difficult piece considering the outdoor setting, with the occasional motorcycle screaming up Rockville Pike and wind across the microphone rumbling like thunder. Despite the distractions, Hughes and Takao brought out the tenderness and emotional beauty of this lyrical work.
Kane's ambitious arrangement of the "Flight of the Bumblebee" by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov capped the program. Pianist Takao anchored the septet of winds and strings, her solid performance unifying the ensemble.
-- Gail Wein
Sunna Gunnlaugs Quartet
The Sunna Gunnlaugs Quartet performed at the National Museum of Women in the Arts on Thursday night as part of its ongoing concert series, "Cool Countries, Hot Music." Pianist Gunnlaugs certainly qualified for the program in one respect: She grew up near Reykjavik, Iceland. But the jazz her quartet plays isn't "hot" so much as it is intriguing, blending folk elements with sophisticated harmonic schemes, contrasting idyllic passages with fitful rhythms and brash, sometimes dissonant improvisations.
Now living in Brooklyn, N.Y., Gunnlaugs performed a set entirely devoted to original compositions. None was more lovely or evocative than her own ballad "A Garden Someday," a blues-tinted reverie that showcased saxophonist Loren Stillman's soulful alto and Gunnlaugs's lyrical touch. Drummer Scott McLemore's "Over Yonder," on the other hand, presented the quartet, and particularly Stillman, in far more dramatic and harmonically restive light, at least until the tune slid into an easy swing groove. Another peculiar delight was Gunnlaugs's "Smack 'Em," a 12-tone-row-inspired piece that didn't sound nearly as methodical as you might think.
Stillman and bassist John Hebert, who projected a resounding tone, shared a lot of solo space with Gunnlaugs during the evening, and the contrapuntal weaves they created made some of the arrangements appear intricately textured. The concert ended before Gunnlaugs had a chance to imaginatively recast an Icelandic folk tune, as she's done in the past, but there was no mistaking her talent or the distinctive niche she's carved out for her band.
The series continues with a performance by Danish vocalist Tine Bruhn and her group on Aug. 26.
-- Mike Joyce