Making additional use of his lung power, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis blew out the candles on his birthday cake with a single breath at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater on Tuesday night.
Afterward Marsalis, 44, joked that he's indeed feeling older, partly because he helped nurture the four musicians assembled for the concert, creating what he described as one big happy "dysfunctional" family. (And yet another generation is on the way: Seated next to drummer Ali Jackson throughout the performance, occasionally tapping out a beat, was his 3-year-old son, Ezekiel.)
If anything, though, the concert suggested Marsalis is sounding more youthful than he did 20 years ago. There's a lightheartedness in his playing now that wasn't evident when he was invariably described as a "young lion," and his immersion in Duke Ellington's orchestral works has certainly helped color his phrasing with an assortment of open and muted tones.
Largely devoted to tunes drawn from Marsalis's 2004 release "The Magic Hour," Tuesday's concert was laced with shifts in tempo and meter. The quintet waltzed through "Sophie Rose-Rosalee," its melody shaded by Marsalis's Harmon mute; glided through the swing contours of "Free to Be Me," dramatically punctuated by Walter Blanding's tenor sax; and boisterously celebrated New Orleans's "second line" parade traditions with the remarkably adroit Jackson leading the way. The diverse moods invited pianist Dan Nimmer to create intricate contrapuntal designs with the help of his powerful left hand, and bassist Carlos Henriquez to move from elegantly bowed lines to forceful, slap-string drive.
-- Mike Joyce
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Combine the slanted, catchy melodies of Pavement, the messy crunch of Sebadoh, the forward propulsion of the Feelies and some vocal tricks learned from David Byrne and you pretty much get the sounds Clap Your Hands Say Yeah cooked on its self-titled debut album. And for those who missed the aforementioned bands the first time around (and many who didn't), it made a tasty indie rock meal. At the sold-out Black Cat on Tuesday night, the Brooklyn quintet reproduced their songs in all their tousled glory, turning in a performance that was agreeable but hardly the sum of their influences.
Benefiting from the swooning of exhaustive online music journal Pitchfork ("Update: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah Drummer Gets New Cat"), the group is as hot as any in the indie community. Singer and guitarist Alec Ounsworth's ghostly if often indecipherable whine worked fine on "By the Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth" and "Details of the War." If his band mates had played as well as he sang, the set might have soared, but except for the occasional burst from bassist Tyler Sargent, the music was pedestrian indie rock bluster.
Yet Ounsworth occasionally made magic out of the muck, turning "Gimme Some Salt" into a superbly distended shuffle and making "Is This Love?" a high-strung yelp-fest. Clap Hands may not yet -- it formed barely two years ago -- have the skill to live up to its avalanche of Internet raves, but nothing about Tuesday's show indicated it won't one day acquire it.
-- Patrick Foster
John Vanderslice may be a perfectionist pop craftsman in the studio, but he's no stiff scientist when it comes to hauling his songs onto the stage. He was loose and lively over the course of a rousing 90-minute set at the Black Cat on Monday night, singing with marvelous expression while fronting a lithe trio that bent to every nuance of his rich indie-rock melodies.
Vanderslice and his band -- keyboardist Ian Bjornstad, drummer Dave Douglas and bassist David Broecker -- are on a 32-date U.S. tour to support his fifth album, "Pixel Revolt," but that brooding, richly soundscaped disc didn't dominate the proceedings. The San Francisco-based Vanderslice roamed his catalogue for both the prickly ("Speed Lab," "Pale Horse") and the sumptuous ("You Were My Fuji"). "Pixel Revolt" is rife with studio flourishes and otherworldly touches, but the key to the success onstage of numbers like "Angela," "New Zealand Pines" and "Continuation" was that the band didn't try to reproduce them verbatim.
Amazingly for a guy who gave a heartfelt shout-out to his mom in the audience and bears a passing resemblance to Droopy Dog, John Vanderslice is starting to look like the most consistently engaging singer and songwriter -- and maybe even live performer -- on indie-rockdom's current landscape.
-- Patrick Foster