Detroit native Regina Carter—who won a MacArthur fellowship last year—is one hell of a jazz violinist. The problem is she usually makes bad records. Nearly every album she’s recorded under her own name has been released by Verve, which has been the most unrepentant perpetrator of concept-oriented producer albums (i.e. albums that revolve around some kind of gimmick or theme instead of just collecting a set of new music). On one album she paid homage to music of the Motor City, while another found her revamping her repertoire toward the classical spectrum because she was playing Paganini’s famous Guarneri violin.
Her most recent album, I’ll Be Seeing You: A Sentimental Journey, was promising; debilitated by the death of her mother, she decided to play a selection of her mom’s favorite tunes, partly as a therapeutic exercise and partly because she also loved the songs. If it had just been her strong quartet—pianist Xavier Davis, bassist Matthew Parrish, and drummer Alvester Garnett—playing standards like “This Can’t Be Love” and “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” (she also tackles an Edvard Grieg theme and contributes an original), we might’ve had the opportunity to hear Carter invest the tunes with the emotional weight that led her to do the record in the first place. Instead, vocalists Dee Dee Bridgewater and Carla Cook muck things up by wailing away on nearly half the record. (Yes, I know that these are songs and that Carter’s mother probably always sang the lyricis, but still.) So here’s hoping that her gig at the Symphony Center on Friday, March 16—part of a double bill with pianist Marcus Roberts—lets her dig into the songs in the way she’s capable of. Her current sextet—which appends the working band mentioned above with clarinetist Darryl Harper and the terrific accordionist Will Holshouser—will focus on her latest album; thankfully no singers are traveling with her.