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Imani Winds

October 14, 2007

Yes, the Imani Winds are great to listen to, with their infectious energy and their willingness to take artistic risks. And yes, each of the five woodwind musicians can charm an audience with introductions to the music that are not only witty and cogent but that also speak from the heart, to the heart. But perhaps the most compelling aspect of their performance at the Library of Congress on Friday was their choice of music.

The Winds' program drew on the best from sources that have taken jazz, the blues, funk, folk, and classical polyphony and structures seriously. There were no concessions to "easy listening" or cheap effects. This was music that demanded and rewarded attention -- music that was important.

The concert opened and closed with pieces by the late Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla, whose exuberant tangos have caught fire with audiences around the world. An arrangement of his "Escualo" got a delightful reading, and his tightly strung "Libertango" ended the evening triumphantly.

In between were "Shadow" by the Thai composer Narong Prangcharoen, full of microtonal ornamentation and chattering textures; Paquito D'Rivera's "Kites Over Havana," by turns playful and reflective; the Washington premiere of Wayne Shorter's "Terra Incognita" (commissioned for the Imani ensemble), whose improvisations sounded well rehearsed; and four excellent movements from "Suite: Portraits of Josephine Baker," by Imani flutist Valerie Coleman.

The performances opted for color and intensity over neatness. This was a good choice.