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Regina Carter and Stefon Harris

Violinist and Vibraphonist Jazz It Up

By Allison Lewis

Regina Carter and Stefon Harris

Berklee College of Music

Friday, Feb 15

$30 reserved seating

Stefon Harris and Regina Carter, two great jazz artists, combined forces at the Berklee Performance Center for a unique and exciting performance Friday night. Stefon Harris, a commanding vibraphone player whose newly released Black Action Figure was named Best Jazz CD by Newsweek, led a simple quartet that included piano, drums, and bass. Regina Carter, a stunning jazz violinist, is critically acclaimed for her solo work with Wynton Marsalis and Cassandra Wilson. Her quintet included piano, drums, percussion, and bass.

“Man, I love my job!” began Harris, when he stepped onto the stage. This passion shone throughout the show. Using no set list, the quartet moved wildly from soft to loud, playing so well together the improvised parts sounded composed.

Their first song, “Rebirth,” began with a unique piano solo that reminded me of a twisted Vince Guaraldi’s “Linus and Lucy.” Then the other instruments joined in, bringing the music to a short and deafening climax - the vibraphone bewitching and humming like a human voice, the brave bass player plucking away.

The next song began with a compelling vibraphone solo, revealing Harris’ honest and beautiful style. The drummer launched into a groove and led the music into loud, head-bobbing jazz. I was less impressed with the last song, “T.T. Boom,” which seemed dull at times but had one charming piano solo.

Carter began with “Black Orpheus.” She played the dark, quiet song seamlessly, with gentle perfection and obvious classical background.

“Prelude” was fast and fun, with strong hints of country and rock and roll. Not the usual bar-style jazz, the song mixed African chanting with Riverdance, revealing, as it ended, a surprising amount of singing talent in the group. Carter moved with her violin like a fiddler, and the audience couldn’t help but join in, one man moving so wildly he seemed to be having a fit. During his solo, the piano player became Jerry Lee Lewis, banging away like he couldn’t hit a wrong note. The percussionist led the audience into a forest of chirping birds, fluttering wings-in-the-wind, and rattlesnakes. Carter bobbed her head and the musicians jumped into a fast melody, punctuated by excited shouts of “hah!”

In “The Music Goes Round and Round,” Carter made her violin sing like Ella Fitzgerald, who once performed the song. Again the musicians sang the end, filling the stage with their energy. The last song, named “Mohito” for a Cuban drink, had a Latin-swing. Carter commanded the audience to clap and sing “Mohito!” in repetition with the music. She set her violin down and danced with the pianist, swinging like they were at a Cuban dance club. The timbale player provided their vibe, punctuating the beat with the sounds of her native tongue as she bobbed with her drums. Her strong voice and drum solo gave the music intense movement, making me wish she had been featured more.

At the end of the concert, both groups came out on stage and wrapped arms around each other: two vastly different performances, but clearly one great show.

Though Harris and Carter each had a unique, unpredictable styles, these performers escaped common jazz repetition and made each song stand out. They played out to the audience and enjoyed themselves under the bright stage lights. They sang and danced, too, and by the end of the show, I wanted to be on stage. I understood at once why they both genuinely love their jobs; the performance was alive. Stefon Harris and Regina Carter made music that was heard and felt.