On paper, Colombian singer Carlos Vives's musical approach reads like a forced exercise in eclecticism that shouldn't work: vocal melodies supported by a standard rock band setup plus accordion, Andean flutes, guacharaca (a bamboo tube played with a stick) and congas. Friday night at the Patriot Center, though, Vives and his band, La Provincia, turned that mix into nearly two hours' worth of joyful pop and rock. With plugged-in instruments on one side and acoustic ones on the other, the always-smiling Vives took the spotlight at center stage.
This forty-something former telenovela heartthrob is now best known in the Spanish-speaking world for his transformations of folkloric vallenato music into hits. Americans may sneer at the genre's main instrument, the accordion, but Vives's band uses it effectively in a contemporary context to provide speedy, bouncy rhythms. Touring in support of his CD "El Rock de Mi Pueblo," he emphasized cuts from that effort. Opening with the upbeat title number, Vives added bluesy harmonica and '80s arena-rock licks to his musical multiculturalism. The equally prominent accordion supplied a zydeco-meets-cumbia feel, accented by the warm colors of flute, congas and guacharaca.
With an energy that never flagged through the night, Vives frequently hopped up and down as much as his fans. On "La Maravilla," the crowd joined in on the soaring chorus, while the vocalist seamlessly switched in and out of rap on the verses. By evening's end, Vives and his band had thrown in a techno number and a power ballad, but even these lesser moments included uniquely Colombian elements. Finishing with their strengths, Vives sang pop hooks and the acoustic musicians meshed squeezebox and percussion polyrhythms before leaving the stage.
-- Steve Kiviat
"There's nothing wrong with integration," Ethel Ennis quipped at the Rams Head Tavern in Annapolis on Friday night, moments before singing the Gershwins' "Summertime" over a bass line borrowed from the Michael Jackson hit "Billie Jean." Engaging, soulful and evocative, imbued with an effortless rhythmic grace, it was the kind of performance that listeners have come to expect from the Baltimore native.
Of course people don't show up at Ennis concerts solely to hear her sing. At 72, the jazz vocalist is as engaging as ever, a consummate performer with a quick wit, enormous charm and an eagerness to both entertain and inspire. Her repertoire is always in flux, it seems, and Friday night offered typically varied treats. For starters, there was a hauntingly tender rendition of the Peggy Lee-Marian McPartland ballad "In the Days of Our Love," so sensitively enhanced by pianist Stef Scaggiari that his accompaniment brought to mind Shirley Horn's sublime handiwork. "We're So Close," an often overlooked bossa nova that Ennis has long favored, quietly evoked a lovely Brazilian-tinged reverie. A couple of self-penned tunes, including the good-natured admonition "Hey You," dedicated to the late Keter Betts, were rendered bright and brassy. And there was no mistaking Ella Fitzgerald's influence when Ennis revived the Broadway standard "Tomorrow" with a mixture of girlish glee and jazz cunning.
Scaggiari, who opened the evening with an all-too-brief trio performance, artfully orchestrated the shifting moods throughout the concert, with the alert support of bass guitarist Mark Russell and drummer Ryan Diehl.
-- Mike Joyce
Crystal City Jazz Celebration
Whenever local jazz musicians gather these days, a tribute to bassist Keter Betts, who died earlier this month, is likely to ensue. The salute staged at the Crystal City Jazz Celebration at the Hyatt Regency on Saturday night was unique: Tommy Cecil, Steve Novosel and John Previti, bassists all, honored their friend and mentor by teaming up with pianist Robert Redd, who accompanied Betts for 15 years.
The tune choices reflected Betts's love for melodic standards and the blues, and the arrangements evoked his voicelike phrasing and robust tone. Cecil brought a lovely, singing quality to "Poor Butterfly"; Previti turned "In a Sentimental Mood" into a soulful elegy; Novosel embellished "Mona Lisa" with vigor and imagination. Unison lines, woven passages and dovetailing exchanges also distinguished the performances, along with Redd's subtle accompaniment and swinging interludes.
Among the festival headliners was 85-year-old blues shouter Jimmy "T99" Nelson. A protege of Big Joe Turner, Nelson has not only a resounding voice but an outsize personality to match. Accompanied by several of Washington's R&B veterans, including saxophonist Joe Stanley and drummer Joe Maher, Nelson displayed a bellowing baritone that instantly harked back to the pre-rock era. The songs associated with Wynonie Harris ("Good Rockin' Tonight") and Joe Williams ("Everyday I Have the Blues"), as well as some original jump tunes, were delivered with plenty of charm and authority. A terrific ad hoc brass ensemble led by trombonist Dan Barrett was also a big crowd-pleaser, on and off the dance floor.
-- Mike Joyce
David Allan Coe
Latter-day dirtballs like Kid Rock and Uncle Kracker have always admitted being inspired by David Allan Coe, an original pop redneck who has tattoos older than they are. Coe's show Friday at the State Theatre revealed that he's well aware of the youngsters, too.
Coe, 65, gets more bizarre-looking with every passing year: His braided beard falls farther down his chest than ever, and more than once his long hair, bleached and straightened to look like a Paris Hilton wig, got in the way of the singing and had to be pulled away from his face by a roadie. His set was just as odd, full of spontaneous song switches and a detachment from the audience that was due more to intensity than apathy.
Plucking an electric guitar painted like a Confederate battle flag, Coe showed unimpeachable honky-tonk credentials. He put his own sensitive tunes, including "Tennessee Whiskey" and "Will You Lay With Me in a Field of Stone," beside sensitive tunes written by contemporaries: Guy Clark's gorgeous "Desperados Waiting on a Train" and Mickey Newbury's prison song, "33rd of August," which made him start to cry. A rendition of "San Francisco Mabel Joy," another piece by Newbury, who died in 2002, was equally sublime.
The show wasn't all about touchiness and tears. For most of the night Coe played alone while the band stood around waiting for a cue. When the young quintet kicked in, however, it really kicked in, on "Willie, Waylon and Me" and "If That Ain't Country," as well as Kid Rock's "Only God Knows Why" and "Picture," a song Kid Rock wrote with Sheryl Crow.
Coe played "Follow Me," a hit for Uncle Kracker, and said that in recent years he's gotten more serious about songwriting. One of the new bunch, "Will You Remember Me?," found him trying to out-brag the kids, yet with old-guy sensibilities: "I'm the guy that can drink you under the table," he crooned, recalling a day when a man could be measured by his power-drinking skills.
-- Dave McKenna
AIDS Marathon Opera Gala
Icounted only 46 in the audience for the AIDS Marathon Opera Gala at the Scottish Rite Center on Saturday. It's a pity more weren't there to hear 10 young singers on the cusp of their professional careers.
The singers -- sopranos Brooke Evers, Meghan McCall and Cristina Nassif, mezzo Jennifer Mathews, tenors Israel Lozano, Alvaro Rodriguez and Jose Sacin, and baritones Nicola Albanese, Eduardo Castro and Matthew Osifchin -- ranged from recent conservatory grads to more experienced and stage-savvy performers.
Expectedly, among this unusually good-looking group, there were discrepancies of technique and seasoning. But all showed promise and individuality -- in the right material.
Evers's warmly appealing soprano, for example, sounded more at home in music from "I Capuleti e i Montecchi" than in her tentative Rachmaninoff Vocalise. Mathews seemed vocally and dramatically out of her depth in Charlotte's aria from "Werther" but proved a confident, sensual Maddalena in the "Rigoletto" quartet. Osifchin's lithe tone and stylish phrasing would carry even better with more detailed acting. And Sacin just needs to fix a lax approach to phrasing to let his beautifully rounded tenor sound its best.
The finest and most finished work came from Nassif (displaying the plummy low notes, tangy top and penetrating tone of an old-school Italian spinto-soprano), McCall and Lozano (her bell-like clarity and fine control and his juicy, Italianate ring at their most exciting in the love-duet from "Lucia di Lammermoor"). Lester Green was the supportive pianist.
-- Joe Banno