The Rippingtons

A smooth-jazz concert that doesn't entirely live up to its billing isn't necessarily a bad thing. Take, for example, the Rippingtons concert at the Rams Head Tavern in Annapolis on Wednesday night.

The veteran pop-jazz band is touring with reedman Eric Marienthal, who is a member of Chick Corea's Elektric Band. Playing alto, tenor and soprano saxes, plus an EWI (electronic wind instrument), Marienthal brought some touches of fusion jazz to the concert, first by weaving or exchanging colorful lines with guitarist-bandleader Russ Freeman, then by jacking up the tension with spirited and often keening improvisations. Freeman countered by emphasizing his rock and blues influences on electric guitar, punctuating pentatonic riffs with bent-note cries as his fingers moved up the fretboard.

Freeman's renewed interest in classical guitar also produced some welcome fusion-like diversions, particularly when he favored a percussive attack and flamenco-tinged flourishes while revisiting ballads from the band's recent album "Wild Card." Older tunes, including "Tourist in Paradise" and "Villa by the Sea," delighted the packed house, but the pieces drawn from "Wild Card," which features Marienthal and several other guests, produced the most surprises and contrasts.

The sextet occasionally settled into the rigid backbeat grooves associated with smooth jazz and added the customary R&B accents. But the funk-flavored "Lay It Down," an extended showcase for bassist Kim Stone, was slyly executed and ranked among the evening's highlights. Another big plus was input from percussionist Scott Breadman, who frequently triggered polyrhythmic Latin excursions imaginatively orchestrated by keyboardist Bill Heller.

-- Mike Joyce

Elekibass

If the Kinks circa 1967 had been zany rather than melancholic -- and, by the way, Japanese -- they would have sounded much like Elekibass, the Tokyo quartet that delighted the crowd at DC9 on Wednesday night. The four top-hatted musicians rarely restricted themselves to the stage. They paraded around the club clad in capes and masks, launched a mid-audience singalong accompanied by clouds of soap bubbles and led onlookers in a wave-and-jump dance routine.

Much of the band's stage business could have been lifted from a kiddie show, but guitarist Junpei Kameda also lampooned macho-rock crowd surfing by insisting that some of his new fans carry him high above their heads, a bit that ended with his playing a short solo while still held in midair.

Musically, Elekibass drew mostly on late-'60s British rock's mix of bluesy rhythms, music-hall melody and psychedelic whimsy. At first, it seemed the similarity to the Kinks was merely a coincidence. But a tune that frontman Yoichi Sakamoto introduced as a rumba soon revealed itself as a cousin to that band's "Picture Book," and the set crested with a cover of "Skin and Bone," a song from the Kinks' "Muswell Hillbillies."

Sakamoto and his cohorts playfully replaced that album's old-timey horn section with kazoos -- sometimes played by members of the audience -- but their admiration for the original was evident. It's just that Elekibass replaced the Kinks' "Dead End Street" with a yellow-brick road.

-- Mark Jenkins