Raphael Saadiq

With his R&B set Thursday at the Birchmere, Raphael Saadiq wooed concertgoers with jams stretched out like hot taffy. Saadiq's honeyed tenor rivaled any of his recorded material, as the former Tony! Toni! Tone! and Lucy Pearl vocalist, producer and writer celebrated his first solo disc ("Raphael Saadiq as Ray Ray") on his own label, Pookie Entertainment.

True to the record's blaxploitation-era artwork, Saadiq hit the stage in a light blue suit and white fedora. Although the album (Ray Ray is what his mom called him as a youngster) is a supposed journey into the pimp/player/pusher flicks of the '70s, the joints that flowed into each other were tame, including new standouts such as the amorous "Rifle Love" and "Detroit Girl."

Bolstered by five stunning instrumentalists sporting Halloween-like outfits, including bassist Eric Smith in a nun's habit, Saadiq galvanized the packed club with his come-hither vocal stylings. Tony! Toni! Tone! fans were rewarded with hit slow jams such as "Anniversary" and "It Never Rains in Southern California." And when Saadiq urged folks to lay their heads on his pillow during the tune of the same name, sighs enveloped the room.

-- Craig Smith

Le Concert Spirituel

As in fashion, the French often bring an unrivaled style to musicmaking.

Tuesday night at the Library of Congress, the baroque ensemble Le Concert Spirituel presented a sparkling program that was utterly French -- everywhere suave, elegant and vigorous. There was a total lack of artifice in the playing of this combined chamber orchestra and chorus, and two works of 17th-century composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier were filled with vibrant colors, natural rhythms and force.

The ensemble gave a plaintive yet uplifting account of Charpentier's "Messe de Monsieur Mauroy," H. 6. Conductor Herve Niquet sensitively balanced each section, laying a strong foundation with such authentic 17th-century bass forces as a small positive organ and two theorbos, a type of long lute plucked like a guitar. From initial "Kyrie" to closing "Envoi," the chorus sang with precision; dropping beautifully out of this weightless glow of sound were sensitive solos from the sopranos and bass.

Crafty percussion, woodwinds and strings fueled a highly spirited reading of Charpentier's triumphant "Te Deum," H. 146, whose inventive instrumental combinations traded off with supple solos for voice. Lovely sopranos soared over the climbing figures from the orchestra; golden phrases from bass and tenors cut right through the rich, teeming sound. Throughout, Le Concert Spirituel brought enormous sense of intelligence, commitment and integrity to this fertile musical score.

-- Daniel Ginsberg

Kem

Kem has to be sick of being likened to Al Jarreau by now. The Detroit balladeer has spent much of his young career trying to distinguish himself from the elder vocalist while making sure to accept the comparisons as compliments. But Kem's performance at the Birchmere on Tuesday night showed a singer who is intent on establishing his own identity.

The inspired mix of R&B, contemporary jazz and world beat that Kem employs still smacked of the man behind "We're in This Love Together," but the whiny, nasal scatting technique that he shares with his predecessor was toned down. During "Matter of Time" and "Say," smooth love songs from Kem's debut disc "Kemistry," he revealed a voice deeper and raspier than the one captured on his album.

Sharing personal information with the audience also helped free the artist from his pigeonhole. Before "This Place (Church of Today)," an ethereal, tenor-sax-laced ode to his house of worship, Kem spoke of a time in his life when he slept outside, visited crack houses and was bailed out of jail by his father. Anecdotes about heartbreak and jokes at the expense of band members were less serious asides, but the quips helped Kem inject a show of mellow music with feisty energy.

The concert commenced with the jazzy, growling "Love Calls," Kem's biggest single to date and the song that launched all of this son-of-Jarreau business. Aided by his funky six-member band, Kem unleashed a fresh arrangement of the hit that featured a slightly slower tempo and huskier vocals but was still familiar enough to sing along to. With the encore, Kem not only silenced those who've dismissed him as a carbon-copy crooner but also improved upon an original.

-- Sarah Godfrey

Raphael Saadiq performed works from his first solo CD at the Birchmere.