Turns out a hometown baseball club won't be the only thing to cheer in Washington next year. Thursday night at the Lincoln Theatre, conguero Poncho Sanchez and his Latin Jazz Band, plus some notable guests, offered a "sneak preview" of the Duke Ellington Jazz Festival, a mostly free five-day event that will feature an international array of talent. (The dates will be announced soon.)
Few jazz bands, Latin or otherwise, win over audiences as quickly as Sanchez's nine-member ensemble. The group spent the first half of its performance paying tribute to Machito, Ray Charles and Mongo Santamaria with multifaceted arrangements, full of crackling polyrhythms, bass-driven funk grooves and blasting horn charts.
The arrival of guest trombonist Steve Turre triggered a terrific Ellington-inspired interlude. Using a plunger mute, Turre eloquently evoked the maestro's distinctive tonal palette with a gorgeous interpretation of "In a Sentimental Mood." "African Flower," on the other hand, was vibrantly colored by Turre's patented use of conch shells as wind instruments and his flair for whimsically improvising. Afro-jazz legend and fluegelhorn player Hugh Masekela, who also played with the Sanchez band, then performed two pieces that celebrated his South African roots in soulful, playful and invigorating ways. Before the evening ended, Sanchez also delivered an old-school salute to James Brown by stepping out from behind his drums and robustly singing a horn-charged "Out of Sight."
Vocalist Sunny Sumter and the New Washingtonians, a student quartet from the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, led by musical director-reedman Davey Yarborough, opened the concert with plenty of spirit and swing.
-- Mike Joyce
Anytime "acoustic guitar," "solo performer" and "instrumental" are factored together, the chances of "New Age" being in the sum are pretty good. And sure, Kaki King has heard at least a few artists from the Windham Hill label (especially Michael Hedges). But Leo Kottke, Nick Drake and geniuses of minor-key sustain such as Loren MazzaCane Connors are probably in her collection as well. At Jammin' Java Thursday night, King worked through a refreshingly unschooled hour of original tunes that emphasized emotion over technique and gripping guitar sounds over clean, virtuoso lines.
With a look and attitude that has more in common with Green Day than Alex De Grassi, the 24-year-old King has become something of a six-string hero since her 2003 debut record generated serious buzz in the acoustic guitar world, as well as a major-label record deal. Her first effort for a big corporation ("Legs to Make Us Longer") doesn't come out until next week, but its songs were the show's main attraction.
From the opening "Playing With Pink Noise," it was clear that King's percussive style -- she grew up playing the drums and often thumps the body of her Ovation guitar as part of her compositions -- has matured but is still central to her approach. While earlier songs such as "Carmine Street" emphasized finger-tapping all over the instrument neck, new ones turned on silences and gorgeous, fleeting chord changes. King played lap steel on "Can the GWOT Save Us?" and even sang once, but it was her acoustic work -- tough, inventive and deeply felt -- that confirmed she may indeed be worthy of the guitar-hero hype.
-- Patrick Foster
Who would have thought a fiddle could sound like a band of bagpipes streaming down the Scottish highlands? The three-time U.S. Scottish fiddle champion, Bonnie Rideout, did just that and more Thursday, turning her fiddles (including a viola) into myriad emotional shades in tunes from her Gaelic heritage. She was joined by guitarist Bryan Aspey and percussionist Matthew Bell; together they make up the Bonnie Rideout Scottish Trio.
A buoyant figure in basic black, Rideout dazzled the sold-out audience in Strathmore Hall's dark-paneled Shapiro Music Room -- smiling, heel-stomping and hip-swaying through jovial dance tunes, while gravely focusing during songs of Scotland's tragic times.
Whether accompanied or not, she spun out folk melodies -- pop music of the past -- in high-art fashion, traversing mile after mile of now-luminous, now-plaintive variations that twisted, upended or caressed a melody with sharply rhythmic Scottish-snap accents or wrenching glissandos, even wisps of blues.
In Rideout's tour de force, a ballad depicting Scotland's bitter defeat by the English in 1746, her playing mimicked the noise of shattering battle volleys and screams, ending with a bow gliding down the fingerboard in a final moan. Guitarist Aspey gamely reinforced Rideout's driving rhythms, often echoing the underlying drones of Celtic bagpipes. Bell, an astounding percussionist, manipulated his hand drum with fingers or mallets whirring at the speed of light.
-- Cecelia Porter