Regina Carter plus Yazz Ahmed at Queen Elizabeth Hall – EFG London Jazz Festival


Had this concert been programmed with a specific theme in mind, then the subject of ancestry might very well fit the bill. It was clear that British Bahraini trumpet player Yazz Ahmed had something new to say before she even played a note, arriving on stage in a stunning emerald green full-length dress of Middle Eastern origin. Joined by a sextet that included bass clarinet, assorted percussion and vibraphone, the sound of the Arabic modes pervaded her music as textures varied effortlessly throughout her short set.  

Violinist Regina Carter has been investigating her forebears recently, which led her to the folk music of the Appalachians where her paternal grandfather worked as a coal miner. A mix of these folk songs, arranged by her bassist Chris Lightcap, among others, were interspersed with other tunes including one commissioned for tonight’s concert. Hank Williams’ ‘Honky Tonkin’’ opened the set with the band laying down a solid groove before she even made it to the stage. The harmony remained static for what might otherwise have felt like a generation, however Carter’s sustained inventiveness in dialogue with accordionist Will Holshouser meant that the piece was over all too quickly. One of the folk songs, ‘Miner’s Child’ is a simple minor key theme that flourished as the harmonies were gradually reworked by bass and guitar.

Carter asked the audience what they would like to hear. ‘It won’t be loud’ she responds, but there was a break from the folk songs to ‘Hickory Wind’. Loud it wasn’t. Nor was it flashy or showy, and yet Carter digs deep into the subtle beauty with stunning results. If her band showed any brief sign of flagging as in ‘New for N’awlins’ by drummer Alvester Garnett, then Carter’s solos with their heavily syncopated lines got them burning again. Carter’s commission may have been titled ‘Pound for Pound’, but there was nothing here to suggest that she needed to punch above her weight.   

– Mark Stokesbury