Regina Carter | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Regina Carter 

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Like most violinists, Regina Carter started out playing classical music. But she grew up black in Detroit in the 60s, making it almost inevitable that she would also internalize the Motown sound, and she gravitated to jazz while studying at the New England Conservatory of Music. She's since worked with artists as different as jazz pianist Kenny Barron, R & B star Mary J. Blige, and the chamber jazz group the String Trio of New York; in all cases, her appealing mix of street and satin has served her well. That mix tipped dramatically toward the latter during the last 18 months, thanks to "the Cannon," one of the classical world's fabled violins. So named for the prodigious projection of its sound, the Cannon was built in the 1700s by del Gesu (ranked by some as superior to Stradivari) and later owned by the 19th-century virtuoso Paganini; eventually it fell into the hands of the city of Genoa, which preserves the instrument as a civic treasure, lending it for performance only under stringent conditions. In 2001 the violin's caretakers invited Carter to play it in concert, making her the first African-American--and the first jazz musician--to receive the honor; under one of the conditions, she had to present works "appropriate" to the occasion. Like that concert, Carter's subsequent album, Paganini: After a Dream (Verve), leans on the French impressionists Ravel, Debussy, and especially Gabriel Faure; since they all composed works adapted by pop and jazz players, this repertoire also allows Carter to incorporate a modern rhythm section and improvise convincingly on proven material. As a crossover project perched between classical and jazz, Paganini may rile purists on both sides of the fence, but Carter has filled the disc with voluptuous, imaginative, and even rambunctious solos; I can only imagine the Genoans' reaction to the blue-note glissandi she tosses into Debussy's "Reverie." You can expect music from the album on the program--but the Cannon, of course, never leaves Genoa. Friday, June 13, 8 PM, Pavilion, Ravinia Festival, Green Bay and Lake Cook Rds., Highland Park; 847-266-5100.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Giorgio Scola.

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