Not merely content to reign as the hottest jazz violinist on the scene, Regina Carter has been straying a bit toward her instrument’s earlier classical heritage. Recently she had the rare privilege of playing and recording with a priceless Guarneri violin once owned by Paganini — resulting in an album of mostly classical adaptations, “Paganini: After a Dream” (Verve). This new direction formed brief bookends for Carter’s first set at the Jazz Bakery Tuesday — and the two respectfully performed selections (Piazzolla’s “Oblivion” and Ravel’s “Pavane for a Dead Princess”) were the least interesting ingredients of the set.
The most provocative number by far was a vast expansion of Richard Bona’s “Mandingo Street,” first heard in embryo on Carter’s first Verve album, “Rhythms of the Heart.” It now opens with extended whistled bird sounds and strummed washes of piano strings and percussion. This was followed by a battering workout that evolved into a fascinating, original groove that can only be described as Afro-Bossa, where Carter blended scat vocals in canon with her Cuban-born percussionist Mayra Casales.
There were glimpses of Carter’s jazz festival show-stealing form in a drawn-out version of Lucky Thompson’s “Prey Loot,” where she swung with lusty abandon, dropping quotes from Borodin to bop. Her resident pianist Werner Gierig chipped in an equally swinging solo himself, but alas, the momentum was erased by an unnecessary, scattered, overlong drum solo. There was also some nostalgia for earlier jazz violin masters, a poised, swing-style ride on the “Chattanooga Choo Choo” for violin, piano and Chris Lightcap’s bass.
Though not everything worked equally well, Carter remains an unpredictable eclectic with a welcome appetite for change.