Regina Carter plus Yazz Ahmed
(Queen Elizabeth Hall, 22 November 2014, EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Jon Turney)
Jazz violin star Regina Carter convened a suitably instrumented acoustic band to perform the songs from her latest release, Southern Comfort (reviewed here) in which she delves into the songs of her grandparents’ time in Alabama. Backed by Marvin Sewell on electric and acoustic guitars, Chris Lightcap on upright bass, Will Holshouser on accordion and the irrepressibly good-humoured drumming of Alvester Garnett, this was jazz meets Americana done to perfection.
The set was built from the very simple materials aired on the CD, some of them sampled in their most elemental form using field recordings played from Carter’s iPhone (as explained in our interview earlier this year). The simplicity is affecting, although just occasionally overwhelmed by long solos from guitar and accordion that these songs didn’t really call for. No such problem with Carter’s solos, though, which invariably tell a story that grips you to the end.
Her superb violin sound, captured beautifully on the recording, came across even more penetratingly in the QEH – a shift of venue after ticket sales made it clear the Purcell Room would be too small. And although her cohorts are all fine musicians, it was Carter who held the attention for 90 minutes plus.
The gig added well-judged variety to the Southern Comfort songlist. The leader doubled a vocal line on Richard Bona’s Mandingo Street, and brought her Festival commission, Pound for Pound, while Garnett’s post-Katrina piece, New for New Orleans, was a more modern emotional maelstrom.
The folksier melodies linger, though. As Carter said, the way the music of the Appalachians wove together Scottish and Irish elements with West African and other strains is another reminder that all musics are connected. Her 21st century take on the same blend certainly connected with London in the most enjoyable way.
Trumpeter Yazz Ahmed’s opening set, confined to half an hour, seemed over almost as soon as she and her band got warmed up. That didn’t leave much of an impression of her interestingly layered music except that she composes somewhat Eastern melodies, George Crowley sounds great on bass clarinet, and Martin France on drums and Dudley Philips on bass work beautifully together. If the festival organisers want to support new talent they perhaps they need to allow them a bit more breathing space than this.