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MUSIC | JAZZ REVIEW

The sound of surprise

Boundary-transcending Regina Carter shows just why she earned a MacArthur grant.

October 13, 2006|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

Violinist Regina Carter's performance Tuesday at the Jazz Bakery to open a six-night run revealed the growing extent of her continuing quest for creative discovery.

Her current ensemble -- clarinetist Anthony Wilson, pianist Helen Sung, bassist Matthew Parrish and drummer Alvester Garnett -- provided instrumentation well suited to Carter's desire to further expand the violin's jazz presence, largely through her own growing musical sophistication, without losing touch with the virtuosity of its classical voice.

The violin still reigns as the primary instrument of orchestral classical music, even though Stuff Smith, Joe Venuti, Stephane Grappelli and Jean-Luc Ponty long ago established its jazz credibility. But when someone like Carter comes along, who is fluent in jazz and classical arenas, distinctions between genres are blurred, boundaries transcended. No wonder she's one of this year's recipients of a MacArthur Foundation $500,000 "genius" grant.

Throughout the evening's diverse collection of music, she articulately employed the various aspects of classical technique -- double stops, pizzicato, harmonics, etc. She invested Ravel's "Pavane for a Dead Princess" with a dark tone of melancholy. Carter's own piece, "Black Bottom Dance" (from a larger suite), was a jaunty, rhythmic expression of her Detroit roots. And "Little Brown Jug" -- from "I'll Be Seeing You: A Sentimental Journey," Carter's new CD, dedicated to her mother's memory -- was whimsically coiled around references to J.S. Bach.

Carter's playing was superbly countered by Sung, who displayed extraordinary potential of her own. Each of her solos was a study in creative bravura, explosive with stormy, near-free jazz playing, mesmerizing with delicate, melodic lyricism.

The front-line instrumentation of violin and clarinet produced fascinating combinations of timbre, from soaring classical lyricism to down-home funk, with Wilson offering several scintillating. Garnett, occasionally a bit too overpowering for both the room and the music, otherwise offered solid propulsion; Parrish's bass provided a sturdy foundation for the shifting musical styles.

In front of it all, driving the set through a range of selections that insistently repelled narrow definition, Carter's violin pushed aside the fringes, bringing light, imagination and adventure into jazz's spreading tent.

*

Regina Carter

Where: Jazz Bakery, 3233 Helms Ave., Los Angeles

When: 8 and 9:30 tonight through Sunday

Price: $30

Contact: (310) 271-9039

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