At the Barns of Wolf Trap on Thursday night, jazz vocalist Jane Monheit said she has performed "several billions" of shows since the release of her first CD nearly five years ago. All the road work seems to be paying off.
Sheathed in a lacy black gown and looking rather like Catherine Zeta-Jones's younger sister, the 26-year-old vocalist worked the packed house like a seasoned cabaret pro. She seemed more relaxed than in the past, exuding plenty of charm, displaying a luminous voice and relying on a repertoire brimming with pop, jazz and Brazilian favorites.
Romantic ballads and sunny diversions remain Monheit's specialty, and she often adorned them with little, perfectly pitched flourishes that soared into the air like silvery tones from a flute. Playing to her strengths throughout most of the evening, she avoided songs that require a singer to deliver an emotional wallop, while favoring the torchy glow of "More Than You Know" and the effervescent pulse underpinning "Waters of March." "Taking a Chance on Love," the singer's new CD, inspired some of the shifts between dreamy ballads ("In the Still of the Night") and lighthearted perennials ("Honeysuckle Rose"), all neatly orchestrated by a quartet featuring drummer (and Monheit's spouse) Rick Montalbano.
Of course, Monheit's appeal isn't purely musical. If there were a jazz Grammy for glamour pusses, she'd have a slew of them by now. Yet it was clearly the sound of her lovely and lithe voice that triggered the calls for an encore.
-- Mike Joyce
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
What happens to Alberich? After all, Richard Wagner never reveals the fate of the dwarf whose offense at the beginning of "The Ring of the Nibelungen" leads to 15 hours of opera and the eventual death of the gods.
Christopher Rouse has filled this dramatic hole with a fantasy for solo percussion and orchestra, "Der gerettete Alberich" ("Alberich Saved"), in which the dwarf, represented by a vast array of percussion instruments, contends with motives derived (or deformed) from Wagner's music. The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra helped commission the 1997 work, and with Colin Currie on percussion and Roberto Abbado conducting, it was played with spirit and skill at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall on Thursday night.
Wagnerian ripeness and nervousness alternated in the first of the fantasy's three sections; the BSO's massive rumblings effectively set off Currie's skulking, furtive polyrhythms. Simple, bare, gorgeous string chords (a favorite Rouse texture) dominated the slow section, as Currie tiptoed between percussion stations to draw pinpricks of sound from the marimba and steel drum. In the third section, though, Currie began bashing a rock drum set and the orchestra whooped in response, lightening the mood and leading to a riotous all-percussion climax.
To open the concert, Abbado and the BSO gave an overly tame reading of Beethoven's often-jocular Symphony No. 8; they played more boldly in Richard Strauss's high-Romantic "Also Sprach Zarathustra."
The program will be repeated, without the Beethoven symphony, this morning at 11 a.m.
In whatever emotional guise he sang, baritone Sigurdur Bragason brought the essence of his native Iceland to the Corcoran Gallery of Art on Thursday night. Singing in Icelandic, a language that stymies even today's other Scandinavian populations, he told of an island nation hovering amid darkness and reaching far into a timeless Nordic past.
Bragason represented a rare coupling of a song recitalist's intimate, meditative air with an operatic lead's sweeping gestures and confident presence, as his program introduced a host of Icelandic composers and poets whose names are virtually unknown in America.
Along with his responsive, imaginative pianist, Hjalmur Sighvatsson, Bragason took Sveinbjoern Sveinbjoernsson's "Galopp" at a throbbing pace and paired an authoritative bearing with convincing wit in songs by Arni Thorsteinsson and Rikhardur Oern Palsson (the latter molded in classic blues fashion).
Bragason's wondrously intense bass timbres cast songs by Bjarni Thorsteinsson and Ingi T. Larusson in clouded nostalgic gloom, while he injected passages of a whispery falsetto into settings by Pall Isolfsson and Thorkell Sigurbjoernsson. His engaging storytelling manner throughout the performance spoke of his homeland's long Arctic nights.
-- Cecelia Porter
Mindy Smith has a voice big enough to fill the 9:30 club but, judging from the sparse turnout at the club Thursday, apparently not the reputation to draw enough fans to fill it. And so the 32-year-old singer-songwriter was forced to headline one of those hellish situations that most professional musicians endure at some point: A large room, a small crowd, and 75 minutes to make the best of it.
It didn't help matters that for the first few songs an obnoxious, seemingly drunk group of five patrons stood by the bar, talking loudly, making fools of themselves, annoying everyone around them. And yet Smith, leading a band that, it must be said, had the charisma of a license plate, soldiered on. It wasn't a pretty scene. The crowd, if 75 people is a crowd, was generous to Smith and clapped briefly after each song. Still, there were many moments of total silence. Even the Birchmere never gets that quiet.
"You seem like you're a pretty rocking group of people," Smith deadpanned during one extended bit of dead air. A beer bottle could be heard rolling on the floor. Let the cringing begin. The New York native, who now lives in Nashville, was not to be deterred, however, as she leaned in hard and delivered songs from her debut album, "One Moment More." In addition to the moving title track, she impressed with the moody "Train Song" and a gospel-tinged "Come to Jesus." There were also a cover of Dolly Parton's "Jolene" that was a bit overwrought and a beautifully simple cover of Gillian Welch's "Orphan Girl."
At last month's Americana Music Association awards, Smith won the New/Emerging Artist of the Year award. She obviously has talent, but this was not a night she'll want to remember. Simply put, it was the wrong show, wrong time, wrong place.
-- Joe Heim