Zurich String Trio
The Zurich String Trio capped its performance Thursday with Erno Dohnanyi's Serenade in C -- a piece charged with the raw energy and bittersweet lyricism of the eastern European countryside. Dvorak and Bartok's presence lurked in the background as the trio expressed the insistence of the Hungarian's austere textures and pounding chordal formations, which veered precariously away from western harmonies.
The group (violinist Boris Livschitz, violist Zvi Livschitz and cellist Maikael Hakhnazarian) clearly enjoyed its immersion in the piece, most vividly when the violist's bow emerged in some sweetly alluring solos or hammered away -- alternating with the other instruments -- with a primal drone effect.
In the trio's performance of Beethoven's third String Trio, Op. 9, listeners could feel the symphonic urgency and internal pressure that would impel the 27-year-old composer's later orchestral masterpieces.
The evening at the Swiss Embassy, as part of the Embassy Series, included two somewhat less impressive musical curiosities. Mozart was already absorbing Bach's style at the age of 6, recent research suggests. But Mozart's later arrangement of a Bach Prelude and Fugue, played tentatively Thursday, virtually eliminates Bach and exposes Mozart at less than his best. The odd selection of Beethoven's Duo for Viola and Cello, though performed nicely, was at most a canon-driven joke.
-- Cecelia Porter
In concert, John Cale doesn't try to convey the full scope of his 40-year career. He doesn't tackle anything from his minimalist experiments, his soundtrack work or his orchestral and choral compositions. But the Welsh-bred multi-instrumentalist does cover nearly every period of his song-oriented output. In a nearly two-hour set Thursday night at the 9:30 club, Cale performed most of his masterly new album, "HoboSapiens," confidently integrating those tunes with ones from his earlier solo albums, as well as a few by former collaborators and his first rock band, the Velvet Underground.
The singer-songwriter was backed by a versatile three-piece band whose playing was, for most of the set, tightly controlled. The music was usually dominated by Cale's mellifluous baritone and classical-style keyboards, while the other musicians made burbling or strangulated sounds that melded with the synthetic timbres that characterize "HoboSapiens." Electronics also were featured in rearrangements of such '70s songs as "Andalucia" and "Frozen Warnings," the latter originally written and sung by Nico for a Cale-produced album.
The carefully channeled vehemence of such songs as "Fear" and the Velvet Underground's "Venus in Furs" -- Cale's only foray on viola -- finally overflowed in the last few songs, for which the musician switched to flying-V guitar. As Cale revealed in his autobiography, "What's Welsh for Zen?," he is no longer the fierce, substance-abusing madman he was till the mid-'80s. Yet he rampaged with authority through such rockers as "Gun" and the Modern Lovers' "Pablo Picasso" (another production credit), demonstrating that ferocity remains a integral part of his stylistic repertoire.
-- Mark Jenkins
Billy Joe Shaver
It's rare these days that you get a movie and a concert together, but Thursday night at the State Theater, Billy Joe Shaver's honky-tonk performance was preceded by the area premiere of "The Portrait of Billy Joe," an hour-long documentary made by Luciana Pedraza (the executive producer is her boyfriend, Robert Duvall).
As it turned out, Shaver's engaging between-song banter was more candid and revelatory than the movie. The 65-year-old singer-songwriter, who has had a quadruple heart bypass, lost two fingers in an accident and saw his wife, Brenda (he married her three times), and his 38-year-old guitarist son Eddy die months apart, was in a terrific mood, performing leg kicks, telling stories and beaming a smile that carried to the balcony.
He also sang. A former staff writer for Johnny Cash, Shaver sounds a bit like that familiar baritone but with a distinctive octave-dropping hiccup as the chorus approaches. Backed by a sterling five-piece band, Shaver reeled off, among others, "Georgia on a Fast Train "When the Fallen Angels Fly," "Bottom Dollar," "The Devil Made Me Do It the First Time" and "Hold On to Yours (and I'll Hold On to Mine)."
Before performing "Tramp on Your Street," Shaver described how as a boy he climbed a pole to have a view of a little-known singer in concert. The singer, noticing that the audience was preoccupied with "bootleggers" (who carried illicit booze in their boots and sold it for "a nickel a swallow," Shaver said), instead focused his attention on the boy on the pole, and that's how Hank Williams came to sing his songs to the young Billy Joe Shaver.
Shaver deserves attention of a hip producer as a reclamation project, as did the latter-years Cash. Near the end of the evening he sang "I'm Just an Old Chunk of Coal (But I'm Going to Be a Diamond Someday)." Someday has arrived.
-- Buzz McClain
Los Hombres Calientes
Tickets to the show by Los Hombres Calientes at the Kennedy Center's KC Jazz Club on Thursday night should have been stamped "Round Trip." Starting from its base in New Orleans, the brass-powered septet took listeners on an island-hopping jaunt through the Caribbean, followed by excursions to Brazil and Africa, then back home again for a parade-strutting finale.
Irvin Mayfield, a young but seasoned trumpeter, and veteran percussionist Bill Summers, best known for his tenure with Herbie Hancock's Headhunters, shared band-leading duties. Like a lot of his Crescent City role models, Mayfield coaxed a wide variety of tones from his horn, and his solos were often colorfully accented by fellow trumpeter Donald Brown and trombonist Steven Walker. Even so, Walker was at his best when soloing on George Duke's "Brazilian Sugar," paying melodic tribute to Antonio Carlos Jobim.
On congas and timbales, Summers created contagious polyrhythmic weaves with drummer Jamal Batiste and bassist David Pulphus. When their hands briefly fell into perfect sync, they produced crackling exclamations, and pianist Victor Atkins often heightened the excitement by alternating churning vamps with ringing right-hand rhapsodies. The group didn't skimp on showmanship, either. Mayfield displayed some lighthearted virtuosity, while Summers offered an amusing illusion involving a gourd shaker and a beer bottle. Not to be outdone, Brown demonstrated the proper way to shake a tailfeather at the end of the concert, when the audience was on its feet, cheering and waving napkins and hankies in the air.
-- Mike Joyce
Laurie Anderson spent two years as NASA's first "artist in residence." "The End of the Moon," a performance piece she brought to George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium on Thursday, is, in effect, her final report on the project. Even admirers of Anderson's blend of spoken word, music and video might wonder what the space agency's officials will think of the success of the assignment.
Anderson tackled big themes: beauty, time, space. But then again, what art doesn't? With a single screen projecting a shot of the moon's surface, and with occasional stories about experimental spacesuits or the Mars rover, Anderson paid some lip service to NASA. But the hour and a half was filled with many tales and images, linked only by Anderson's having put them together. In her soft, schoolteacher's voice, the 57-year-old New Yorker spoke of a lost love, an eccentric from her childhood, gun-toting Turkish television audiences, haiku and -- perplexingly and fortunately briefly -- gay penguins.
Specific vignettes were wonderful, including a story that compared her rat terrier's discovery of the predatory nature of turkey vultures to her Manhattan neighbors' reactions, after Sept. 11, 2001, to the recognition of a threat from above. And the music she performed on electric violin, redolent of Norwegian Hardanger and Eastern European folk, was suitably vast and atmospheric.
But the performance addressed its stated theme most arrestingly when Anderson picked up a small video camera and projected her own shaky image to mimic footage of astronauts' faces floating by -- and then held the camera to her bow as she sawed out a propulsive, minor-key motif, the projected image of the violin neck a jerky, unpredictable path into the vastness.
-- Pamela Murray Winters