Ricky Fante

The buzz, the buzz, the buzz. Washington native Ricky Fante stepped onstage at Iota on Thursday night and the small, crowded venue immediately felt charged, as if something special and sparkling could happen.

The ex-Marine, with the sort of Blair Underwood good looks that makes other guys wrap a protective arm around their girlfriends, knows how to work a crowd. He winks and smiles, struts and jokes with such ease and aplomb, it makes you think he has been practicing this routine in front of a mirror since age 3. He probably has. But it is his voice, a gritty throwback to old-school soul, that snaps everyone to attention.

Fante recently released his debut album, "Rewind," on a major label and has hopes of becoming a big-league star. But for now he's preparing for a tour, and so the intimate performance at Iota was a family affair with a host of relatives and friends in the crowd. The 27-year-old introduced almost all of them, including "my great-uncle Johnny, who taught me how to sing, taught me to put on a pound of cologne."

Besides Johnny, Fante also had some help from old-time records. With a fabulous seven-piece band behind him, Fante kicked off the show with "It Ain't Easy (On Your Own)," a wrenching soul tune that has its roots in the styles of Otis Redding and Sam Cooke. "Love Doesn't Live Here No More" sounded like vintage Al Green, while the power horn intro to "Smile" made it seem like Sly and the Family Stone had taken over the club.

Fante is not without critics, some of whom think his style is too reverential or even imitative of old-school soul. Well, there are worse styles to imitate. And he certainly has the talent to emerge from such giant shadows with an identifiable style of his own. The buzz is deserved.

-- Joe Heim

Jose Lemos

Young Brazilian countertenor Jose Lemos brought a surprising program to his recital at the Inter-American Development Bank's attractive Cultural Center Auditorium on Thursday. A couple of Handel arias and the passionate "O Patria" from Rossini's "Tancredi" were the only representatives of the standard countertenor repertoire -- music full of ornamental acrobatics and the sort of melodrama composers loved to write for that voice.

The rest of the program was assembled from a lovely collection of songs, most of them transposed from baritone range and most written by 20th-century South American composers, and it was in this repertoire that Lemos sounded most at home. Perhaps his finest singing came early in the program in the three songs by Reynaldo Hahn, a Venezuelan who moved to France early in life and specialized in gentle songs of love and romance. Lemos, whose voice is light and clear and quite agile (although not yet up to Handel's coloratura demands), found just the right combination of ardor and restraint for these and communicated the texts with compelling intimacy.

As performers of art songs must -- and the best do without apparent effort -- Lemos established a new personality and set a new scene for each song.

There was a sense of magic in the three songs by the Brazilian composer Valdemar Henrique, passion in Vicente Ascone's "Como las Frutas del Monte" and longing in songs by Carlos Guastavino and Osvaldo de Souza. For the three spirituals that ended the program, pieces by now almost indelibly identified with voices like Marian Anderson's, Lemos was smart enough to stick with what he does very well -- sing them gently, sincerely and lovingly.

A splendid collaborator in this musicmaking was pianist Irina Pevzner, whose clean articulation and keen sense of balance made her a true partner.

-- Joan Reinthaler

Ricky Fante flashed all the right moves during his Iota performance.Jose Lemos played to his strengths.