"I'm sweating because it's hot. He's sweating because he doesn't know what's coming next," said Terence Blanchard at Blues Alley on Saturday night. The New Orleans-born trumpeter was referring to bassist Micah Jones, a newcomer to Blanchard's group who was getting acquainted with a series of rhythmically and harmonically challenging arrangements on the fly.
The opening set showcased tunes from Blanchard's most recent recordings and allowed plenty of room for improvisation. The moods, however, were varied: Ivan Lins's "Nocturna," not surprisingly, inspired a thoroughly romantic and soulful quintet performance. "Bounce," on the other hand, was enlivened by a playful, bop-ish trumpet riff. Best of all was "Harvesting Dance," a wonderfully evocative, Latin-tinged piece composed by the group's pianist, Aaron Parks. The sweeping arrangement, which bordered on the cinematic, was charged by Blanchard's clarion horn and drummer Kendrick Scott's explosive might.
Some gadgets helped produce atmospheric shadings now and then, but the emphasis was on acoustic interplay. Certainly Blanchard has found a worthy collaborator and foil in saxophonist Brice Winston. He wielded a full-throated tenor with great agility and sometimes underscored Blanchard's trumpet flights with a resounding pedal tone.
Pianist Parks also complemented the bandleader's musicality, producing subtle chordal backdrops and harmonically tart solos. As for Jones, the new recruit negotiated the continuous twists and turns with surprising ease. The only drawback was the absence of West African-born guitarist and composer Lionel Loueke, who has helped shape the group's distinctive sound and globe-spanning repertoire. He'll join the band on tour later this month.
-- Mike Joyce
'Something to Prove Tour'
Opening -- and local -- act Cashus Flow noted the wonderful oddity of the Virginia leg of the hip-hop "Something to Prove Tour," which stopped at Jaxx on Saturday night. "Make some noise!" he shouted to the crowd. "Don't you know there's guys from Wu-Tang in Springfield?!" But Springfield, though no stranger to NASCAR and crunchy bangs, knows its hip-hop, and the crowd went nuts for a bill that would get any underground head reeling: Jeru protege Afu-Ra, left-coaster Planet Asia, Wu-affiliate Cappadonna and original Wu-Tang member Inspectah Deck.
Indie faves Afu-Ra and Planet Asia were well received, but the crowd was eager to see Cappadonna, who has recently dealt with the dangers of self-imposed homelessness and driving a Baltimore cab. Focusing on picking up fares hasn't affected his flow: He delivered inspired arrangements of "Run," from his 1998 solo debut, and his famous verse from "Winter Warz."
The Rebel I.N.S. tore the stage up by rattling off verses from Wu-Tang ensemble tracks. Over the drunken, chopped-up kung-fu flick scores of the RZA, Deck's sharp lyrical work on "C.R.E.A.M," "Da Mystery of Chessboxin' " and "Protect Ya Neck" was highlighted. He also performed some of the best guest verses of his career -- including his appearance on Gang Starr's "Above the Clouds" and his lines on the Pete Rock-produced "True Master" -- as well as the requisite RIP tribute to ODB.
As Deck stood in for Ol' Dirty Bastard on "Shimmy Shimmy Ya" and "Brooklyn Zoo," the crowd threw their "W" signs in the air and jumped around -- typical rap concert reactions. But pockets of slight moshing and thrashing proved that you can get hip-hop down to Springfield, but Springfield can't always get down to hip-hop.
-- Sarah Godfrey
Sarangi player Ramesh Misra opened his concert Friday at the Freer Gallery with "Yeman," the same raga that sitarist Nishat Khan played less than a month ago a few blocks away at Baird Auditorium. Yet Misra's performance was nothing like Khan's -- and couldn't have been. Indian classical music is improvised from fundamental melodic motifs and rhythmic patterns, and is redefined by different circumstances, sensibilities and instruments. Misra may not be as bold a player as Khan, and certainly the sarangi (a bowed instrument) is less versatile than the sitar. But the performance was engrossing, partly because of Misra's skill but also because of his generosity.
The sarangi's tone is generally compared to that of the human voice, and the instrument often accompanies singers. Although it has sympathetic strings, the sarangi doesn't have the tonal range of such plucked instruments as the sitar and sarod. Misra dealt with that lack by having his young son, Rohan Misra, strum a surmandal, a sort of zither. As he played lyrical melodies or sustained notes with subtle bowing, his son periodically loosed a cascading arpeggio.
Sarangi and surmandal were nicely integrated, but then affinity was a hallmark of the entire performance. Misra duetted intuitively with nimble tabla player Nitin Mitta, who explored the instrument's full range, from sharp and metallic to deep and resonant. The headliner was apparently impressed with Mitta, as he graciously took a supporting role during the 25-minute tabla solo that began the second half of the concert. Misra was expressive as a soloist, but he also demonstrated something of his character as an accompanist.
-- Mark Jenkins