Jaunty African Beats and Rich Purist Blues from Regina Carter
Violinist Regina Carter led her captivatingly cross-pollinated African jazz quintet Reverse Thread through a characteristically intriguing blend of styles last night at Madison Square Park. Backed by kora virtuoso Yacouba Sissoko, bassist Chris Lightcap, drummer Alvester Garnett and accordionist Will Holshouser, Carter alternated between gorgeously stark minor-key blues leads, hypnotic loops of pizzicato and the occasional terse cadenza: throughout the set, she chose her spots.
They opened with the slowly unwinding, bluesy Dancing on the Niger, Carter’s tersely bittersweet, sometimes atmospheric lines hovering over the swaying rhythm and Holshouser’s steady pulsing chords, Sissoko throwing off a similarly terse, sparkling solo. The dancing second number, by Amadou and Mariam, began as another showcase for Sissoko, working his way down from spiraling glissandos to an insistent, rhythmic intensity before turning it over to Carter, who turned the heat up all the way over a repetitive two-bar motif, Holshouser winding it out in a whirling torrent of chords.
Garnett’s New for New Orleans was a fullscale suite. A stately, somberly hopeful solo accordion intro kicked off a jaunty jazz waltz, followed by a long Holshouser solo that veered from triumphant to apprehensive and back again, and a tense duel between Garnett and Lightcap that springboarded Carter’s purist, blues-drenched, smartly crescendoing coda. They followed with a biting, slinky rendition of a Papo Vazquez salsa jazz tune with a long shivery kora solo, Carter taking it into more pensive, spacious terrain. Carter took care to explain that Hiwumbe Awumba (meaning “God creates, God destroys”), a Ugandan Jewish traditional song from the album, would be the opposite of fire-and-brimstone, and she was right, the band taking turns throwing devious quotes and playful jabs over its happy-go-lucky bounce. The Malagasy dance that followed could have passed for a zydeco jam. A Richard Bona tune, pulsing along on an Ethiopian triplet rhythm, served as a platform for Sissoko’s most lickety-split solo of the night, Carter then teasing the band – and the crowd – with pregnant pauses and spritely, split-second flourishes. They encored on a high-energy note with variations on a theme that could have been a country blues, or a West African folk tune – both which it could have been in other times and places.
Carter plays with pianist Pablo Ziegler’s fascinating, intense Tango Connection tonight through the 28th at Birdland, then she goes on world tour with Joe Jackson’s band.