Regina Carter played the role of reverent interpreter, anthropologist and musical diplomat Tuesday night at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, the first night of a residency in support of her forthcoming album, Reverse Thread. The album, a new collection of African folk songs arranged by and reinterpreted for her new ensemble (also called Reverse Thread), is another excursion into new sonic frontiers, providing “the opportunity to explore and celebrate a tiny portion of music that moved me”, Carter said. Enabled by a MacArthur fellowship to follow her muse, Carter’s Reverse Thread resonates with her confident yet lyrical tone, albeit in the refreshingly new context of the African diaspora.
Leading her quintet—which included Yacouba Sissoko on kora, Will Holshouser on accordion, Chris Lightcap on bass, and Alvester Garnett on drums—she began her set with “N’Teri”, a piece built around the kora and violin’s contrapuntal lines. Part finger-piano (emphasized by pizzicato) part Baroque, the song slowly drew the audience into the record’s welcoming new tone. Next was a cover of Amadou & Mariam’s “Artistiya”, whose version could be interpreted as Malian surf rock—a polyrhythmic two-step, woven around Amadou Bagayoko’s pronounced guitar line. With Carter’s violin and Lightcap’s bass, however, the song’s melodic bounce rose to prominence.
Most often Carter introduced a song and its origin, followed by the original field recording that formed the basis for the arrangement. For example, “Zerapiki”, from Madagascar, was originally an accordion-based song. Holshouser’s arrangement simply expanded its instrumentation (sans goat, Carter quipped), transforming it into a rousing Cajun and Polka inspired number that energized the polite crowd. (One waiter didn’t need additional energizing, routinely shouting “Mali! Mali! Mali!” at Sissoko).
Throughout the group’s one-hour set, Carter’s violin sang like bird, a perfectly controlled sound that danced from light, agile, romantic passages to concentrated flourishes with force and conviction. At no point did this require the grand sweeping gestures that some violinists equate with virtuosity (or entertainment).
Where “world” music is concerned, albums routinely succumb to the imperialist condescension of first-world musical tourist refashioning local music into a stereotype marketable for Western ears. Carter has eschewed this tendency, simply creating an album with her interpretations of amazing music, a conceit faithful to jazz. It just so happens that being awarded a “genius” grant facilitates incredible access to an artist’s inspiration.
Regina Carter and Reverse Thread will be performing at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola at Jazz at Lincoln Center through Sunday, March 28
Photos by Thomas Hauner