At the Kennedy Center's KC Jazz Club on Thursday night, guitarist Doug Wamble sounded like someone who's been scanning the radio dial since he was a kid, lest he miss out on some jazz, country, blues, gospel, R&B, bluegrass or vintage pop music worth hearing.
Eclectic? The word doesn't do justice to his repertoire. Within 75 minutes, Wamble managed to reference Son House, Thelonious Monk, Ralph Stanley, Cole Porter, Mahalia Jackson, Rodgers and Hart and Stevie Wonder. What's more, he did so without sounding the least bit insincere or derivative.
Take, for instance, the performance of "Rockin' Jerusalem," a traditional gospel tune associated with Jackson. Reconfigured as a clangorous slide guitar shuffle, the song sounded as if it were arranged for Wamble's quartet by Tom Waits. Likewise, Monk's "Let's Call This" was imaginatively torqued and tweaked. While pianist Roy Dunlap marshaled the requisite assortment of thumping chords and jarring dissonances, Wamble, playing a lightly amplified arch-top guitar, unfurled long ribbons of notes that recalled the sound of Lonnie Johnson and the first generation of jazz pickers. A sucker for romantic ballads, Wamble also crooned tunes by Porter ("I Love Paris") and Johnny Mercer ("Fools Rush In"), all the while sounding like a man contentedly out of sync with the times.
The same was often true of Dunlap, bassist Jeff Hanley and drummer Peter Miles, especially when they were sustaining a soft-shoe swing pulse or charging the spiritual tunes, including the traditional refrain "John the Revelator" with unvarnished church house fervor.
-- Mike Joyce
BSO at Strathmore
Norway has produced some fine composers -- Harald Saeverud, Johan Halvorsen and Christian Sinding, for example -- but it is the great Edvard Grieg's music that says "Norway" to the world. So it was wholly appropriate for guest conductor Bjarte Engeset to lead the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in an all-Grieg program at Strathmore Music Center on Thursday night to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Norway's independence from Sweden.
Conducting without a baton, Engeset shaped 11 excerpts from Grieg's music to Henrik Ibsen's "Peer Gynt" with his hands and body, communicating as much with a raised eyebrow as others do with grand gestures.
The approach worked splendidly. Ibsen's protagonist is no hero: Peer abducts a bride, abandons his faithful sweetheart and saves his own life by pushing an inoffensive cook off a sinking boat. Ibsen intended his picaresque play as a critique of the stolid Norwegian temperament.
Grieg, essentially a miniaturist, illuminated snippets of the play brilliantly. Engeset's attention to detail was exquisite: the balance of bassoon and pizzicato cellos during "In the Hall of the Mountain King," the contrast of horns and flute in "Morning Mood," the resonant string warmth in "Ase's Death" and the great gouts of brass in "Stormy Evening at Sea."
Engeset's fellow Norwegian, pianist Havard Gimse, was somewhat less effective in Grieg's Piano Concerto. Gimse's strong technique seemed rather characterless. The orchestra was more expressive than the soloist, notably in the Adagio, which is redolent of the fjords without being cold. Give-and-take was best in the lovely finale -- first performed 36 years before Norway gained its independence.
-- Mark J. Estren
While millions of Jews were transported from Nazi Germany to eventual death, others -- including leading composers active in Vienna's arts scene -- found refuge by immigrating to the United States. Although the Nazis had prohibited performances of their music as "degenerate," their emigration resulted in a cataclysmic brain drain for musical life in Germany and Austria, a loss that American soprano Constance Hauman spelled out in music with great dramatic force Wednesday at the Austrian Embassy.
Her arresting show, "Exiles in Paradise," incorporating live song and film, was performed four years ago as the centerpiece for the opening of the Jewish Museum in Berlin. At Wednesday's performance, part of the embassy's "Austrians in Exile" series, Hauman's voice was ably accompanied by a chamber orchestra in arrangements by pianist and conductor David Wolff.
Collages of film clips from Austria's and Germany's Nazi past formed the backdrop for Hauman's singing. The music ranged from sultry cabaret vocals in the signature style of Berlin music-hall nightlife of the 1920s and '30s (even some by 12-tone composer Arnold Schoenberg) to arias from Viennese opera (such as Erich Korngold's "The Dead City").
Hollywood owes a lot to Vienna. The legacy left in American film music by Viennese emigre composers who resettled in Los Angeles is little known here. On Wednesday Hauman's radiant singing combined with a barrage of samples from Hollywood's cinematic past, including songs by Walter Jurmann from the Marx Brothers farce "A Night at the Opera."
-- Cecelia Porter
The Savoyards' 'Mikado'
The absurdities of its plot, satiric witticisms and catchy tunes account for the enduring popularity of Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta "The Mikado, or the Town of Titipu." The performance Thursday at the Duke Ellington Theatre by the Washington Savoyards -- self-styled as "a unique blend of professional and amateur artists" -- was one of fine singing and amusing stage antics. The Savoyards fully captured the energy of Arthur Sullivan's inimitable melodiousness and the thrust of William Schwenck Gilbert's satiric dialogue, riddled -- perhaps a little too obviously -- with updated political jabs.
The production was an engaging one, the costumes brimming in colorful elegance, the staging cleverly timed down to the finest detail. The props (pop-up "Oriental" fans of all shapes and sizes and bamboo risers of contrasting heights) allowed the singers ample mobility. Conductor N. Thomas Pedersen led the singers and an able orchestra in a performance both smooth and spirited from start to finish.
Peter Joshua Burroughs made a robust Nanki-Poo, with resonant lyricism and a humorous stage presence. Marc Bryan Lilley, as Koko, the Lord High Executioner, combined brisk singing with convincingly comical gestures. As Yum-Yum, Heather Bingham had a voice of fragrant delicacy. Laura Zuiderveen conveyed all the mock-terror of the villainous Katisha with a contralto voice of golden depth, and David Williams was an impressive Mikado. Vivacious singing in supportive roles by John Patrick Sabatos, Jonathan Powers, Victoria Jueds and Madalaine Vander-Linden was heightened by well-placed humorous patter. The show will be repeated today and tomorrow. -- Cecelia Porter