When: Nov. 2, 2010 • Where: Dakota • Who: Regina Carter, violin; Yacouba Sissoka, kora; Will Holshouser, accordion; Chris Lightcap, bass; Alvester Garnett, drums
If you saw Regina Carter’s “Reverse Thread” at the Ted Mann Concert Hall last March, when she and her band came to the Twin Cities as part of the Northrop Jazz Series, you don’t know the music. If you own the CD and have memorized every melody and phrase, you don’t know the music. The only way to experience these African folk tunes—field recordings from the Ugandan Jews, and music of the African Diaspora that Carter has discovered, deeply researched, and embraced—is to hear her play them live right now, today.
I was at the Ted Mann in March, and I’ve listened to the CD several times, so I almost didn’t go to the Dakota when Carter and her band came through for one night only, two sets. Sometimes when an artist is on tour with a particular CD or project, the live performance can settle into rote familiarity.
Not “Reverse Thread.” What has happened over time with this group—Carter on violin, Yacouba Sissoko on kora, Chris Lightcap on bass, Will Holshouser on accordion, Alvester Garnett on drums—is remarkable and thrilling. The music is fuller, richer, more beautiful, the improvisation more free, the solos more intricate, the communication between the band members more telepathic, the mood more joyous.
I was at the second set, where we heard “Hiwumbe Awumba” (“God creates, and then He destroys”—not as bleak as it sounds, but a celebration of the human spirit), “Un Aguinaldo” (described as African rhythms meet harmonies from India and Puerto Rico; to me, it sounded like a tango), the infectious “Artistiya” (which Carter introduced as “my new housecleaning music”), and “Kothbiro” (the deeply melancholic theme heard in the film The Constant Gardener).
In a departure from the African tunes, Garnett led the band in his composition “New for New Orleans,” a rhythmically complex post-Katrina spiritual stitched together by his drumming and eh eh eh vocalizations. We heard “Full Time,” written by Senagelese bassist Mamadou Ba to describe his first impressions of New York City. Delicate notes cascaded from beneath Sissoko’s fingers. As an encore, “Juru Nani/God Be With You,” which Carter prefaced by explaining that when she first heard “Juru Nani,” she thought of the old gospel song “God Be with You Till We Meet Again,” then had a friend arrange them together. It's a lovely close to the show, a benediction.
At times, the band had to wait for Sissoko to tune his kora—21 strings, and in his hands, a celestial instrument. Unexpected sounds came from Holshouser’s accordion: rumbling low notes, high notes that almost rose out of hearing range, and the long breath of his bellows: hhhaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhh. Lightcap’s bass was the firm and steady heartbeat of the music. And Carter’s violin soared and danced and sang.
“Reverse Thread” is extraordinary in so many ways: the music, the configuration of the instruments, the love with which the musicians approach these old melodies.
Carter is a projects person. She has made CDs about the music of her hometown, Detroit, and the music (Rodgers and Hart, Duke Ellington) her mother loved; she was the first jazz musician and the first African-American to play Paganini’s violin and use it to make a recording. I wondered—what will this brilliant, curious, imaginative artist do next? At the end of the night, I asked her. She said, “More of this.” I said, “Is there enough to keep you interested?” She replied, “For the rest of my life.”
Photos by John Whiting.