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Regina Carter - Paganini After a Dream

- Jazz Corner

This article is sponsored by Flowers of the World.

Jazz and Cabaret Reviews

By Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower

Regina Carter - Paganini After a Dream

The Regina Carter Quintet
Regina Carter, Violin
Werner "Vana" Gierig, Piano
Chris Lightcap, Bass
Alvester Garnett, Drums
Maya Casales, Percussion

With String Orchestra
Ettore Stratta, Conductor
Joyce Hammann, Concertmaster
Borislav Strulev, Cello
Arranged by Jorge Calandrelli
Additional Arrangements by Daniel Frieberg

Alice Tully Hall
Lincoln Center

Produced by Stratta/Philips Productions
Ettore Stratta and Pat Philips

Presented by The Grand Marnier Foundation, Continental Airlines, The Verve Music Group, Famija Piemonteisa Cultural Foundation, Thomastik-Infeld Dominant Strings, and Cooperation of Midori & Friends and Alitalia Airlines.

November 3, 2003

Regina Carter traveled to Genoa in December 2001 and became the first African-American and the first Jazz Musician to play the famed Guarneri del Gesu violin owned by Maestro Nicolo Paganini. Shortly thereafter Ms. Carter returned to Genoa to play this violin for her CD Paganini After a Dream. Ms. Carter was able to accomplish a diplomatic miracle to have this invaluable violin transported by armed guards across the ocean and kept under NYPD surveillance during its stay in New York.

I had anticipated hearing Paganini's rare and renowned violin for many months, since first attending a Regina Carter performance with her Quintet. This violin was to be the star of tonight's show, along with Ms. Carter, its Maestro. The Quintet has been heard in various clubs recently, including Vana Gierig's CD Release party at Sweet Rhythm (See Review) and will continue to be heard on a national tour in the coming year. The violin was a resounding success in its first venture to Tully Hall. However, it was not featured enough in solo, with the band musicians occasionally overshadowing its rare and precious appearance before this sold-out crowd of jazz and classical aficionados.

When the Guarneri del Gesu was first heard, just after intermission (Ms. Carter played her own violin during the first half of the program), it was rich and textured, and in duets with the classically trained and virtuosic Borislav Strulev on cello, all eyes and ears were strained forward to the stage to attend to every tiny innuendo of pieces like the film score of Black Orchid. My favorite moments were provided by the string orchestra, the Guarneri del Gesu, and Mr. Strulev in the very light, but very Latin rendition of Piazzolla's Oblivion, which is usually a searing, gut-wrenching work (See Review of St. Ivo Piano Quartet). The band kept the tiniest flavor of spice ever present in this imaginary dance.

Most of the pieces presented tonight were from Ms. Carter's CD and had been heard by her fans in the Clubs, during the year. Even some of her remarks had been practiced at each appearance. However, there was a very fresh feel tonight, especially with Ettore Stratta's leading of a lovely string orchestra, assembled just for this occasion. Mr. Stratta is a natural Maestro with Italian outfits and wavy hair. The strings were soft and luscious and provided an effective backdrop for the solo passages of the Guarneri del Gesu. Chris Lightcap has been a regular among Ms. Carter's musicians, and his solos are appropriate and effective. Mr. Gierig is a superbly talented pianist, who loves to add a Bossa Nova twist to his music. He may have served as the inspirational foundation of this event.

Mr. Garnett, a powerful percussionist within Ms. Carter's and Mr. Gierig's previous performances, tended to wander into long solos tonight, which built in momentum and volume. Ms. Carter's special guest for her duets was Mr. Strulev, who was especially vibrant as cellist. He appeared honored to be chosen for this enormous opportunity. Another special feature was created by Pat Philips, Co-Producer with partner Ettore Stratta, who facilitated an award to a young student affiliated with Midori & Friends of a small violin from Italy that was presented by an official from Genoa.

Additional music performed at this unique event were Chattanooga Choo Choo, the same song just sung and danced by Fayard Nichols and his wife at Gotta Dance!, which was effectively played on violin with full train sound effects, an Afro-Cuban piece with Maya Casales finally participating (she had sat in on the first two pieces) on her sensational conga drums, along with Mr. Garnett on vibrant percussion, using all metal available, and the intermittent and interesting addition of Mr. Stratta's String Orchestra, which provided a mellow, romantic feel to this eclectic evening.

Ms. Carter presented Betty Carter and Ella Fitzgerald arrangements on this historical masterpiece of an instrument, one of which was reminiscent of Debussy, as this was, after all, Paganini's personal violin. The audience was completely hushed and enraptured, as Ms. Carter allowed us to hear the rich capacity of sound and depth of this exceptional instrument. Mr. Lightcap's bass solo was in perfect proportion, as were Maya's bells and chimes. Lady Be Good, the evening's finale, was presented, in Stratta/ Philips fashion, with the full String Orchestra, the Quintet, Mr. Strulev, and of course, Ms. Carter on the Guarneri del Gesu. I only wish she had performed a much longer jazz solo, with more classical effects (as we were teased briefly with some passages that were breathtaking), even without any accompaniment, perhaps as an encore.

Kudos to Stratta/Philips, Regina Carter, Genoa, Italy, and Nicolo Paganini (who had owned this violin) for this once-in-a-lifetime musical event. I look forward to hearing Regina Carter again soon at Birdland, even though she will be playing her own violin.

Photo courtesy of Stratta-Philips/Regina Carter

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at