For violinist and jazz composer Regina Carter, the itinerant life of a world-class musician involves more than just performing her own music — there’s listening to be done, too. As Carter told me in a recent phone interview, “When I’m traveling, I hear all kinds of things, including music that has not been recorded, and if it affects me, then it becomes part of what I share with my audiences.” This open attitude toward both sounds and ideas of all kinds is an integral part of what Carter describes as the “message of tolerance” that’s at the heart of her latest project, a jazz/world music album, group, and tour called Reverse Thread. It’s this acclaimed new group and repertoire that Carter will bring to the Jazz at the Lobero series on Friday, February 24, and it’s something that has been several years in the making.
Since 2006, when she was awarded one of the MacArthur Foundation’s extraordinary (and extraordinarily generous) genius grants, Carter has been hard at work, expanding her already broad musical universe by researching world music, with the music of Africa as a particular focus of interest. Together with her husband, drummer Alvester Garnett, longtime bass player Chris Lightcap, and a group of players that includes Adam Rogers on guitar, Yacouba Sissoko on the kora, and two outstanding accordion players, Will Holshouser and Gary Versace, Carter has forged a new hybrid music out of source material that’s primarily based in African folk tunes, and a sophisticated sensibility that’s anything but provincial. Carter began traveling through Africa on listening tours even before she received the grant. And once she had secured the funding and conceived the project, she took to the World Music Institute in New York to complete her work, and then assembled her group for two full years of intensive rehearsals in order to find the right formula for realizing her vision. “The biggest lesson that we learned in that time was not to overplay it,” said Carter, who assembled much of her material from field recordings made by Ugandan Jews, but who added melodic inflections from her study of the African musical diasporas in India and Puerto Rico. The result has impressed many people, no two of whom would seem to have heard it the same way. “The other night, an audience member came up to me and claimed she heard the influence of zydeco,” Carter said. “Maybe that’s coming from the accordion.”
As a child growing up in Detroit, Carter says that she was inclined to accept the influences of many different cultures. “I was a public-school kid, and we all went over to the homes of our friends. Although people tend to think of Detroit as a predominantly black city, there were all kinds of interesting folks living there when I was growing up, and many with very deep roots — Chaldean Catholics from Iraq, Muslims, Jews; you name it.” After attending the New England Conservatory of Music to study classical violin, Carter moved to jazz and continued her studies at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. Reverse Thread is her seventh album, released on her own label, E1 Entertainment. “One of the greatest things about the MacArthur was being able to have complete artistic control of the record,” she said, “with no one second-guessing the approach or the arrangements.” The result is a recording that, along with plenty of swing and soul, crosses all kinds of musical borders with a light, sure touch. At the core is Carter’s deft and often understated violin, and her remarkably poetic and decidedly recognizable voice. Not surprisingly, Carter explained that she selects the music she plays not through her instrument but through her voice. “I don’t necessarily think of the violin first when I am considering adapting something,” she told me. “My first move is generally to try and sing it, whatever it is. If I can sing it, I can play it.” Fans of world music, contemporary jazz, and all-around instrumental genius are surely going to want to see it for themselves.
Regina Carter’s Reverse Thread will be at the Lobero Theatre (33 E. Canon Perdido St.) on Friday, February 24, at 8 p.m. For tickets and information, call 963-0761 or visit lobero.com.