Violinist Regina Carter has built a reputation for fusing jazz with elements of funk, Latin and R&B. With her last album, Something for Grace, she proved she can play different genres of music without smothering her jazz sensibility. On Rhythms of the Heart, her third album and first for the Verve label, she returns to her acoustic jazz roots. Jazz listeners who like Carter’s energy and the creative twist she gives standard compositions will not be disappointed. Even the critics who say her last two albums straddled the fence of commercialism will have to admit that Carter can still play the essential components of jazz.

For this offering, she offers ballads, the blues and straight-ahead jazz. She opens with the Gershwin standard "Oh Lady, Be Good." Here, her introductory solo is buoyant and humorous. She shows her versatility by improvising around the melody and taking it through a succession of tempo changes. The stellar group of musicians that she has assembled complements her brilliance. For example, she and pianist Werner "Vana" Gierig remove the aches and pains from "Skeeter Blues" by draining the melancholy and giving it a more robust vibe. On "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most," she’s backed by Kenny Barron, Peter Washington and Lewis Nash. They take this spirited ballad into unexplored realms.

Although this is a straight-ahead jazz album, Carter includes "Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone," which she performs with vocalist Cassandra Wilson. Musically, Carter and Wilson share a kindred spirit. Their version of this R&B classic is delivered with the same candor and soul the Temptations gave it. They collaborated on Wilson’s recent record Travelin’ Miles where Carter’s fire contrasts perfectly with Wilson’s husky voice and velvet phrasing.

Rhythms of the Heart is a strong album that shows Carter is foremost a jazz musician. Whether she’s swinging on a jazz standard or an R&B classic, her music is the embodiment of gumption and creativity.

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