by Ian Mann
August 20, 2021
A welcome reminder of Carter's talent as an inventive and innovative jazz soloist and of Garnett’s skills as a highly versatile drummer and percussionist.
Regina Carter / Alvester Garnett Duo, Livestream for Brecon Jazz Festival 2021
Regina Carter – violin, Alvester Garnett – drums, percussion
The 2020 Brecon Jazz Festival was an entirely ‘virtual’ affair that utilised the benefits of technology to bring the online audience a number of international collaborations with musicians from the USA, France, Iran, Poland, Italy, Argentina, Spain and Uruguay featuring alongside home-grown British jazz talent, including many musicians from Wales.
2021’s hybrid Festival has placed a greater emphasis on live performances, these inevitably featuring UK based musicians, with the Welsh presence again particularly strong.
This year’s international events include this special duo performance from violinist Regina Carter and her drummer husband Alvester (Al) Garnett, streamed directly from the couple’s home in the US, and an online hook up between Argentina’s Tango Jazz Quartet and the Welsh violinist Xenia Porteous.
The Carter / Garnett performance was first streamed on 14th August 2021 to an in person audience at The Muse venue in Brecon and to the wider online public. I am reliably informed that the audio and visual quality at The Muse was exceptional, and I can also vouch that it also looked and sounded pretty damn good when I caught up with it later on line.
Born in Detroit Carter is classically trained but has also absorbed the sounds of her native city, notably those of Motown. As a jazz violinist her primary inspiration was Stuff Smith, with Carter also naming Noel Pointer, Ray Nance and Eddie South as significant influences.
She first came to prominence with the all female pop/jazz quintet Straight Ahead and with the more experimental String Trio of New York but has followed a solo career since 1995. She has also been active as a sidewoman, working across a variety of genres, but primarily with fellow jazz musicians. In 2018 she was appointed as the Artistic Director of the New Jersey Performing Arts’ All Female Jazz Camp.
Drummer / percussionist Alvester Garnett joined Carter’s band in 1998 and the couple eventually married in 2004. In addition to playing the drums Garnett was also responsible for the audio and video with regard to this special performance in the couple’s “Alone Together Duets” series, recorded at their home in New Jersey.
Carter and Garnett commenced with the Benny Goodman composition “Soft Winds”, their version inspired by a Stuff Smith recording of the tune that also featured the renowned bassist Ray Brown. Their good natured rendition saw Carter demonstrating her impressive violin technique as she soloed at length, subtly supported by Garnett’s brushed drums. This was followed by a playful series of violin / brushed drum exchanges that exhibited a genuine enjoyment in their shared music making.
Garnett really came into his own on a stunning version of George Gershwin’s “Summertime”, arguably one of the most overly familiar tunes in the jazz canon. In the duo’s hands it was transformed into something exotic and beautiful, with Garnett establishing the mood during the course of an extended solo drum introduction that combined mallet rumbles with the splash and shimmer of cymbals and even made effective use of the much maligned cowbell. It was all skilfully constructed and intrinsically musical, setting the scene for the introduction of Carter’s fluttering violin and her imaginative interpretations of Gershwin’s famous melody. A second passage of solo drumming, still maintaining the carefully established mood, was again followed by Carter’s violin, this time combining pizzicato and bowed techniques.
Carter spoke briefly to camera recalling the time that she had played Brecon Jazz Festival in the year 2000, part of an extensive European tour that had also included the Marciac Jazz Festival in France, a kind of Gallic equivalent to Brecon. She recalled playing an exciting gig in Brecon and also visiting a social club in the town where members of her band played pool with the locals. She was obviously made to feel very welcome, and more than twenty years on she still clearly harbours an affection for Brecon Jazz Festival and for the people of the town.
The third item in this half hour set was the Duke Ellington composition “Come Sunday”. This was a hauntingly beautiful performance with Carter’s melancholic, blues tinged violin melodies complemented by another masterful performance from Garnett at the kit, excelling in his colourist’s role and deploying a combination of mallets, sticks, brushes and even his bare hands at the close.
To close the duo lightened the mood once more with a playful romp through the Sonny Rollins tune “St. Thomas” with Garnett laying down an authentic Afro-Caribbean rhythm and enjoying a series of scintillating violin / percussion exchanges, with cowbell, and even triangle, being deployed to highly musical effect.
Carter expressed a wish to return to the Festival in person one day, and it would be wonderful if that could actually happen. In the meantime this short streamed event was a welcome reminder of her talent as an inventive and innovative jazz soloist and of Garnett’s skills as a highly versatile drummer and percussionist.
Having a big jazz name like Carter on the bill, even if only virtually, represents quite a coup for Brecon Jazz Festival and hopefully this streamed performance will attract a high number of viewers, both at the time of the original transmission and on catchup. It’s worth the price of admission for the extraordinary version of “Summertime” alone.
The live audience at The Muse were also treated to a solo guitar performance from Kumar Chopra, a young musician who has studied at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama in Cardiff and has also appeared at Brecon Jazz club and festival events, most notably with the celebrated organist Barbara Dennerlein at the 2019 Brecon Jazz Festival. He has also appeared with saxophonists Josh Heaton and Martha Skilton.
The next international event will take place on 31st August 2021, the last day of the Festival, at The Muse when violinist Xenia Porteous will link up with the Tango Jazz Quartet who will be streaming direct from Argentina in a celebration of the music of Astor Piazzolla. For full details, and to catch up with this performance by Carter and Garnett, please visit http://www.breconjazz.org
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