In the seven-year hiatus between Esthero's debut album, "Breath From Another," and her latest effort, "Wikked Lil' Grrrls," she has abandoned her moody trip-hop vibe in favor of a more up-tempo, danceable style. But at the 9:30 club on Sunday night, she led her nine-piece band through a nearly two-hour set that balanced the new sound with her older material.
Esthero periodically treated the audience to a cappella snippets of tracks from her debut, to wild applause. After an ecstatically received version of "Superheroes," she exclaimed, "You're making me feel like you don't like my new [stuff]!" But her newer material received quite a reaction as well: Shouts of "Sing it, girl!" during the ballad "Gone" distracted Esthero, inducing a fit of giggles. And the crowd even sang and danced to an acoustic version of "We R in Need of a Musical Revolution," despite its coming at the end of a late night. (An unadvertised R&B opening set by one of Esthero's backup singers, Toya Alexis -- a former "Canadian Idol" contestant -- delayed the main set.)
A few of Esthero's songs featured overly dramatic arrangements and a blasting horn section, most notably the saucy and off-color "If Tha Mood." Even through such theatrical numbers, Esthero never stopped smiling -- and rarely stopped dancing. During her final song, "Balmes (a Better Life)," she bounced through the crowd and then vanished silently backstage, hopefully buoyed enough by the crowd's relentless enthusiasm to stick with this style and not completely reinvent herself again.
-- Catherine P. Lewis
It is not often that a singer can meet the challenges of both arias meant for opera's expansive spaces and songs conceived for a parlor-size room. Tenor Issachah Savage more than succeeded, aided by pianist Katerina Souvorova's responsive accompaniment. Savage's recital at Grace Lutheran Church Sunday was part of the Hines-Lee Opera Ensemble's support program for promising young singers, one of several such projects in Washington.
Savage gave an impressive performance last summer as Martin in Aaron Copland's gentle opera "The Tender Land" at Catholic University. On Sunday, he offered even more samples of his success on the big stage. But he did so after beautiful accounts of Cesar Franck's familiar "Panis Angelicus," well-known lieder of Hugo Wolf and chansons of Maurice Ravel. By the time Savage had finished the Franck, it was already evident that the tenor is a winner in both dramatic and lyrical styles. In the Wolf, his voice radiated shades of gleaming silver while tackling the composer's settings of hyper-syllabic German with seeming ease and maintaining the intimate bearing and gestures of a veteran lieder singer. Given Wolf's wordiness and Ravel's exotic colors, Savage deserves high marks for the full vocal control and tapered phrases that allow the melodic line to grow to the peak of a song's emotional heights.
In Italian arias of Giuseppe Verdi, Stefano Donaudy and Francesco Tosti, Savage turned actor, one capable of both florid bel canto and touches of humor. Spirituals and gospel songs -- plus three encores -- gave a heartwarming and uplifting finish to the recital.
-- Cecelia Porter