To answer the first question that will occur to anyone who's seen Clinic perform: Yes, the musicians still wear surgical scrubs and masks.
The Liverpool quartet tinkered slightly with its sound for its new album, "Winchester Cathedral," mostly by slowing it a bit. But the band's show Friday night at the Black Cat was very similar to previous local appearances. Singer Ade Blackburn -- whose voice escapes through a hole in his mask -- switched between guitar, keyboards and melodica, leading snappy songs constructed largely from cyclical melodic motifs and nonsense syllables.
With its brisk ostinatos and clipped rhythms, Clinic invoke early '80s punk-funk, which is undergoing a major revival. Yet that's not the whole of the band's style: Its looping riffs suggest synth-pop, and its "oohs" and "whoas" recall pre-Beatles rock. (Indeed, the new "Falstaff" is almost a doo-wop tune.) The combination is cunning and lively, but -- as the masks exemplify -- somewhat anonymous. If the members of Clinic are ever going to expand their music beyond its formal cleverness, they'll have to reveal a little more of themselves.
Sons and Daughters, the impressive Glasgow quartet that preceded Clinic, played propulsive modal rock, but with a hint of Appalachian airs (and their British antecedents). This band also swapped instruments frequently, with singers Adele Bethel and Scott Paterson playing guitar, bass and keyboards, and Ailidh Lennon alternating between bass and mandolin. The foursome never sounded like commonplace alt-country, and made a point of stripping every vestige of twang from one of its best songs, the driving "Johnny Cash."
The evening began with the optimistically named High Water Marks, a American-Norwegian quartet that matched dirty guitars to clean vocals, most of them sung by sometime Apples in Stereo member Hilarie Sidney.
-- Mark Jenkins
The Yellowjackets are generally regarded as a jazz fusion band, owing to their use of electronics and cross-genre interests. But unlike most of the competition, the quartet doesn't indulge in mindless soloing and long-winded arrangements.
At Kennedy Center's KC Jazz Club on Friday night, saxophonist Bob Mintzer referred to the band's colorful "palette" of influences. The proof was in the performances, ringing with gospel chords and bop-inspired harmonies, driven by funk beats and polyrhythmic weaves, inspired by soul jazz themes and R&B grooves.
Mintzer, who joined the group a decade ago, has clearly elevated the level of play. Like Michael Brecker, he boasts an imposing, harmonically sure-footed tone on tenor and occasionally uses an electronic wind instrument to create additional colors and textures. His improvisations on Saturday night ranged from brash to tender, and none of them seemed to last a note longer than necessary.
The corkscrew melody "New Jig," gospel-inspired "Motet" and ballad "Geraldine" were among the tunes that inspired contrasting moods, with the focus shifting from Russell Ferrante's evocative use of keyboards to electric bassist Jimmy Haslip's sleek, cliche-free solos to drummer Marcus Baylor's blend of subtlety and force. At one point, Jean Baylor (the drummer's wife) joined the band and sang "The Hope," an inspirational ballad that will appear on its next CD. Her cameo proved a pleasant diversion, but the performances that bracketed it were far more invigorating and inventive.
-- Mike Joyce
Saxophonist Antonio Hart opened his quintet's performance at the Kennedy Center's KC Jazz Club on Saturday night with fair warning. "We're not going to be all stiff and quiet in here," he said with a laugh. Within a few minutes, the Baltimore-bred reed man had shed his jacket and was reeling back and forth on his heels, vigorously holding up his end of the bargain.
A series of dramatically escalating performances showcased his torch-bright alto and expressive soprano. With plenty of help from pianist Shedrick Mitchell, bassist Michael Hawkins, drummer Neal Smith and percussionist Renato Thoms, Hart paid homage to some mentors and influences as well.
For starters, there was "Know What I Mean?," a Bill Evans tune that recalled Hart's stylistic ties to Cannonball Adderley. The arrangement, jumping back and forth between a funk backbeat and a swift swing pulse, was the first of several to reveal Hart's flair for contouring improvisations via a string of tension-and-release choruses. Later, when Hart unveiled "Down and Up," a self-penned salute to John Coltrane and Miles Davis, he used a similar tack, though in this case Coltrane's seemingly inexhaustible drive was the primary inspiration.
Now and then, the mood turned reflective or spiritual. A 9/11-inspired ballad was subtly accented by Thoms's curious assortment of shakers, rattles and chimes; more soulful and moving was "Alter Ego," a tune composed by Hart's late friend and former bandleader, pianist James Williams. Yet nothing pleased the audience more than the sound of the quintet serving up Hart's "Cappuccino," a rhythmically churning Afro-Caribbean refreshment.
-- Mike Joyce