Saturday, April 19, 2014

Regina Carter: Southern Comfort

When you don’t do a nine to five week, you have to find ways to celebrate the common joys of deserving your sustenance. One of those is to keep track of long weekends and filling them with the kind of stuff you can share on your social media timelines. This long weekend , I had three pieces of musical goodies lined up – the complete Crossroads Guitar Festival 2013, The History of the Eagles and Regina Carter’s Southern Comfort. None of these were with the intention of writing about them or even drooling over in public. I started listening to Southern Comfort late this morning, and at first was just glad to partake in her new outing. As the tracks unfolded, I found myself journeying into the roots of American jazz, folk and country with a guide who was not only acutely contemporary in her sensibilities but one who flew her craft with the brazen delicacy of a Jedi warrior. Somewhere into the fourth track – Shoo-Rye, I knew I had to write about our shared love.

The jazz violin is a strange place. Outside of bluegrass and country, it is dominated by giants like Jean Luc Ponty and Stephane Grappeli. The two violinists of recent times that have successfully taken the jazz violin out of their shadow are Regina Carter and the slightly older (and crazier) Nigel Kennedy on either side of the pond.  Both of them straddle the worlds of classical, jazz, rock and whatever it is that you can call the music of today with a finesse that is at once shrewd and profound.

Like Eric Clapton, Wynton Marsalis and Herbie Hancock, Regina Carter has devoted the last several albums of hers to documenting the roots of modern music, be it that of Europe, America or Africa. This album picks up where she left off on her earlier albums, Motor City Moments, I’ll be Seeing You, and Reverse Thread and takes on landmarks of musical Americana. One would have thought it difficult to top the research and depth of Reverse Thread but with Southern Comfort, Regina Carter proves one wrong. The album artwork sets the tone for an exploration of her musical ancestry with a family tree and a picture of her coal-mining grandfather on his wedding day. This is the hand-clapping foot-stomping music of the American South and the Appalachians interpreted and engineered with the raw elegance that present day inquiries afford.

While Reverse Thread showcased the hypnotic African roots of American music, Southern Comfort takes American music and highlights its forgotten historical beauty. Mostly traditional tunes, with a Hank Williams and Gram Parsons thrown in, the album is a veritable treat for musicologists and jazz lovers alike.  It is almost impossible to list favorites since every track is a delight from every angle, but Shoo-Rye and Death Have Mercy are outstanding.  I also loved the short but amazingly peppy take on Trampin’. Alvester Garnett on Drums and Jesse Murphy on Bass are pretty amazing throughout. Joe Ferla is to be commended too for the excellent engineering which makes the album an audiophile’s delight as well.

While on Regina Carter, in addition to Reverse Thread, one cannot but mention her 2001 outing with Kenny Barron, which can at best be called a genre-defying recording and which has one of the finest jazz covers of Sting’s Fragile.

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