Regina Carter offers the perfect blend of beauty and brains–and how often can a guy make that statement without being labeled sexist? I offer the description in specific relation to Carter’s violin work, which glistens with conservatory tone but bristles with sharp, pungent logic. Other jazz fiddlers have plied their improvisations with tough ideas, from Joe Venuti to Billy Bang, but only a handful (notably the Frenchmen, Stephane Grappelli and Jean-Luc Ponty) have managed to marry that intelligence to a sweet, voluptuous tone. Even fewer have displayed a range of musical interests equal to Carter’s–from her performance on Wynton Marsalis’s Pulitzer-winning Blood on the Fields to her early-90s membership in Straight Ahead, the women’s quasi-fusion band from Detroit, to her shining hour in the String Trio of New York, where her rigorous, semi-free jazz came into full flower. Since Carter began recording under her own name she’s produced two albums of lighter fare that lean heavily on vocals and gently thumping soul grooves, but early this year she unveiled the smart and dangerous New York quintet that’s coming to town this weekend. Mulgrew Miller, perhaps the most accomplished pianist of his generation, offers a mature, generous style rooted in Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner. Bassist Peter Washington and unflappable drummer Lewis Nash are among New York’s first-call rhythm players. And guitarist Rodney Jones supplies Carter with either a supportive orchestrator or a lively sparring partner, depending on the material. This progressive mainstream context gives Carter’s technique its grandest showcase and toughest workout: in her best solos she etches intricate phrases with the force of a jackhammer but the deftness of a surgeon. Friday, 6 PM (with the quintet) and Saturday, 4 PM (master class), Ravinia Festival, Green Bay and Lake Cook Rds., Highland Park; 847-266-5100. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Karin Thomas.