Regina Carter's 'Reverse Thread' Soars
The jazz violinist explores the links between African traditional music and jazz.
Flush with half a million in the bank, she began researching an African project. Carter also sought assistance from jazz piano great Randy Weston, who has made Africa a central focus of his work, and she plumbed the archives of the World Music Institute, for recordings and inspiration. For instance, on the latest album, ''Hiwumbe Awumba'' and ''Mwana Talitambula'' are based on Ugandan field songs. In fact, the second tune employs a sample from the field recording.
The overall tone of the recording is lush and diverse. Carter's virtuosity is abetted by kora master Yacouba Sissoko, who plays the 21-string West African harp. The sound of the recording is live, something she also attributes to the award. The money gave her a chance to find a studio where the band could record as a unit rather than submit to the contemporary technique of having different instruments in different rooms. ''The MacArthur allowed me the space to create the recording I wanted and the resources to make it the way I thought it should be made.''
Reverse Thread makes a stunning addition to a rapidly growing catalogue of recent jazz recordings that feature African sounds. Reedman Oran Etkin's debut recording, Kelenia (Motema) smartly blended Malian sounds with jazz repertoire. On Peace Pipe (Palmetto), bassist Ben Allison matched wits with Malian kora master Mamadou Diabate. And the fusions are also coming from the African side as on Toumani Diabate's Symmetric Orchestra (World Circuit/Nonesuch), which features a big band and Lionel Loueke's sublime two Blue Notes discs, Karibu and Mwaliko broaden the definition of African-American music.
For Carter, creating Reverse Thread was a reminder of our interdependence. ''Doing this enabled me to see again just how much we are all connected,'' she said then paused and added cryptically ''whether we want to be or not.'
Carter giggled slightly when I asked her what big new area she was going to tackle next. ''I'm going to stay here,'' she said meaning that another African recording was in the works. ''I feel like I've just scratched the surface of what's possible.''
Martin Johnson is a regular contributor to The Root.