Violin/piano duos are common enough in classical music circles — Beethoven wrote 10 sonatas for that combination — but not in jazz, where violinists are a somewhat rarer species and all duos proceed without a rhythm section at their own risk. Yet there was no need for bass and drums to fire up the simpatico team of pianist Kenny Barron and rising violin star Regina Carter given the musical fireworks bursting between them.
While the Barron/Carter duo album “Freefall” (Verve), released last May, was unexpectedly absorbing and witty, their collaboration has since moved far beyond the scope of their studio recordings. Live at the Ford, in a fund-raiser for the Jazz Bakery, they expanded upon several of the tunes on the album, demonstrating a highly developed degree of synchronous unity and invention without sacrificing the fun.
“Squatty Roo” — a jaunty Johnny Hodges tune that fits the violin like a custom-tailored suit — turned into an astounding, extended series of trade-offs in which Barron would do one chorus in a lopsided stride manner and take the next in a boogie while Carter would evoke the ghost of Joe Venuti.
Barron’s “What If,” a tune drenched with quizzical flashes of Monk, opened with a funhouse of weird effects as Carter indulged in circular bowing, microtones and other techniques, pulling Barron to an unaccustomed place on the outside.
Later on, Carter dipped into her deep quotebox, pulling the Bach Chaconne for solo violin out of the blue as a coda for “Hush Now, Don’t Explain” (she played the passages immaculately) and sending “Lady Be Good” through asides ranging from Shostakovich to “Chattanooga Choo Choo.”
The opening set featured another Verve artist, the young Chilean-born singer Claudia Acuna, who brought to the gig a crackling piano trio — including the marvelous bassist Lonnie Plaxico — and a big, bright, penetrating set of pipes. She sings jazz standards like “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” and “Prelude to a Kiss” in excellent, clearly enunciated English, as well as songs from her homeland in Spanish and Milton Nascimento’s “Maria Maria.”
The problem is that Acuna tends to perform each song in exactly the same way, with sustained tones sailing over the cooking rhythm section, rarely interacting with the grooves. She has a tremendous resource in this band, and she ought to mix it up with them more.