Sep 1, 2007 at 2:03 am


A decade ago, violinist Regina Carter was one of the most fiery jazz soloist around, something I believed from the first time I heard her perform in 1997 at the Ford Montreux Detroit International Jazz Festival. She played with such unadulterated energy back then that I thought she was going to burst into flames. These days, however, the native Detroiter is mellower. Maybe it’s because she now feels she no longer has to prove herself. Carter has built a solid discography, won the MacArthur Fellowship and was the first jazz musician to play the Guameri del Gesu violin. This is not to suggest that she is resting on her laurels. At this stage of her career, there is no need for her to perform like a madwoman on stage.

Carter today plays with a lot of grace and finesse, which was the case Friday evening at the Chase Stage of the International Jazz Festival, where she shared a double bill with jazz icon pianist Herbie Hancock. Carter pretty much left all the hard playing to her rhythm section, including drummer Alvester Garnett and bassist Matthew Parrish, as well as pianist Xavier Davis.

The song “Prelude” began with a slick intro from Garnett (who is what every young jazz drummer should aspire to be). Garnett was undemonstrative, and during his solo, he displayed no signs that he’s a show-boater like so many jazz drummers are guilty of when they are given the spotlight. Throughout the set, though, his drum licks were like thunder.

There were, however, unusually long solos from Parrish and Davis. At times, it appeared that they were trying to run each other over, but they were totally into the music, and the crowd ate up every note.

Interestingly, Carter did not join in on any of the fun that her bandmates were engaged in. In fact, she waited until the last number of the set to showcase her considerable skills.

On that tune, the classic “Little Brown Jug,” Carter had her violin running at a breakneck pace. It was the Carter that I remember seeing years ago. Her solo was whimsical and highly imaginative, particularly the way she ended the tune by mixing in a few bars of “Go Tell It On The Mountain.” But other than that, on Friday night, Carter was mostly reserved.

On thing that was particularly evident was that Carter has matured as a bandleader. Instead of carrying the weight herself, she now delegates most of the workload to her sidemen, encouraging them to simply have a lot of fun with the music.

Regina Carter