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Violinist Regina Carter’s Ancestral Magic

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Wednesday October 22, 2014

From The Arts Fuse

Fuse Concert Review: Violinist Regina Carter’s Ancestral Magic
By: Jon Garelick

Regina Carter is a virtuoso who favors form over firepower. In their Celebrity Series of Boston show at Sanders Theatre in Cambridge on Friday night, the violinist and her band showed off plenty of nimble chops, but they weren’t looking to burn the Sanders crowd with groove-heavy jams; instead, their patient, carefully calibrated arrangements drew the audience in with a sustained mood of intimacy, warmth, and unfailingly beautiful playing.

Carter, 48, is a MacArthur Fellow (the popularly known “genius grant”), and she’s used some of that money to pursue a musical investigation of her own heritage. Beginning with I’ll Be Seeing You: A Sentimental Journey (2006), she looked at the popular music, blues, and jazz, her mother grew up with in Detroit. She followed that with an exploration of her West African roots in 2010’s Reverse Thread (a DNA revealed she’s 73 percent West African, Carter told the crowd). Her newest disc, Southern Comfort, which came out in March, looks at music from her father’s side of the family — particularly, her paternal grandfather, Dan John Carter, who was born in 1893 and worked for most of his life as an Alabama coal miner.

…It was Carter and her band’s fidelity to the vocal nature of the pieces that most distinguished Friday’s show. It began with the traditional “Miner’s Child,” which featured an elaborate acoustic slide guitar intro from Sewell, before Carter entered to join the band from back stage — it was the most theatrical, “star” turn of the evening, but in keeping with the evening’s casual formality. As the band joined in and hit an easy groove, Carter took over the melody, and it was startling to hear (especially after some of Sewell’s elaborate solo ornamentation) her bring out the vocal quality of the lines, her simple conversational phrasing, with its rests and repetitions and siding blue notes. Carter has spoken about her love of the original recordings and her need to clear her head and scale back her improvisations when she was recording Southern Comfort, and remember that it was those original vocal performances that drew her to the songs in the first place.

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