The last time that sublime jazz violinist Regina Carter blew into town she uncorked a wonderful set at the Freihofer’s Jazz Festival at SPAC back in 2002.
This time around was a whole different animal. And it was even better. It was, in fact, one of the most musically thrilling shows of the year.
Carter is a genuine virtuoso, and since being awarded a MacArthur Foundation fellowship in 2006, you can also call her a genius. I certainly won’t argue that point.
And she was at the top of her game at The Egg, but what brought this performance to a higher level wasn’t merely Carter’s nimble, stellar musicianship, but rather the cosmically empathetic interplay of her ensemble, Reserve Thread, the ensemble she’s assembled to play the music of her latest album of the same title. With bassist Chris Lightcap and dynamic drummer Alvester Garnett provided a full tank of rhythmic fuel, Carter was bookended on the front line by accordionist Will Holshouser and Malian kora player Yacouba Sissoko.
The front threesome seemed to feed off of each other. Sissoko’s spider-like African harp playing intertwined with Carter’s violin plucking until they seemed to become one sparkling instrument. And Holshouser’s innovative squeeze box playing was the glue that held it all together.
“Reverse Thread” finds Carter and the band utilizing African folk and pop melodies as the jump-off point for some thoroughly contemporary jazz. It was timeless music – the melding of old and new, traditional and contemporary, folk and jazz.
Twice during her concert – for “Mwana Talitambula” and “Zerapiky” – Carter prefaced the band’s interpretations with an excerpt of an original field recording of the song they were about to perform, offering a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at how far afield the musicians onstage had taken the folk songs while remaining surprisingly faithful to the source material.
More modern African material – notably Habib Koite’s “N’Teri” and a thoroughly effervescent reading of Amadou & Mariam’s joyous “Artistiya” (with Garnett tapping the rims of the drums more than the heads) – fit neatly within the context of the more traditional repertoire.
And the group wasn’t afraid to journey away from Africa on occasion. With Papo Vasquez’s “Un Aguinaldo pa Regina,” the band veered from the African path to showcase a buoyant Latin sizzle with a lighter, airy cousin to the tango. And Garnett’s own “New for N’Awlins” took the quintet to the Big Easy for some syncopated strutting and an unaccompanied violin solo that found Carter dipping into a bag of southern folk songs like “Shortning Bread.”
It was, in short, a magical night of exotic and thoroughly entertaining music.
THE REGINA CARTER QUINTET SET LIST
New for N’Awlins
Un Aguinaldo pa Regina