Regina Carter: Motor City Moments

It took some time before violin virtuoso Regina Carter released a solo record that is as sensational as her playing. Carter’s first two records sunk with the same schizophrenic sounds that defined the albums of her former band, Straight Ahead. Her third album, last year’s Rhythms of the Heart, found Carter tilling more fertile ground as she explored a multitude of rhythmic styles. But Carter’s newest venture, Motor City Moments, a soulful shout-out to her stylistically diverse Detroit hometown, is her best yet.

Detroit’s rich musical legacy, from bebop and R&B to Latin and electronica, gives Carter plenty of room to roam. But this time she designed a musical paradigm that’s varied and seamless, whether it’s the jubilant stomp of Harry Warren and Mack Gordon’s “Chattanooga Choo Choo” or the inventive Latinized take on Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground.”

Carter gathered a stellar ensemble comprised of pianist Werner Gierig, bassist Darryl Hall, drummer Alvester Garnett and percussionist Mayra Casales. But Carter gets some help from her homeboys: James Carter and Marcus Belgrave contribute some horn work on Thad Jones’ “Don’t Git Sassy” and Alex North’s “Love Theme from Spartacus,” while pianist Barry Harris graces Lucky Thompson’s evergreen “Prey Loot.”

Songs like Milt Jackson’s “For Someone I Love” and Marvin Gaye’s “Don’t Mess With Mr. T.” attest to Carter’s acumen as an interpreter. But it’s her compositions, like “Up South,” a backwoods blues duet with guitarist Russell Malone, and the stark ballad “Forever February,” that shine the brightest.

Throughout Motor City Moments the compositions and performances are exemplary, but it’s Carter’s precise intonation, deft technique and bluesy swagger that reign supreme. With her splendid balancing act between finesse and funk, this motor-booty affair gets more intoxicating with each listen.