When Regina Carter plays “Simply Ella” on Saturday at The Egg, the versatile violinist will reach back to childhood in her music-filled Detroit home. Ella Fitzgerald has always been special to Carter, a MacArthur Fellow and only jazz musician ever invited to play Paganini’s famous 1743 “Cannon” Guarneri violin.
“To this very day, whenever I hear an Ella recording, it grabs me at my core,” Carter said last week. “I’m entranced by her voice, her melodic improvisations and the passion and artfulness with which Ella sings a song,” Carter said.
“She helps me understand a song by providing a window to its essence. In a word, Ella is sublime, and she is at the top of my go-to list when learning a jazz tune.” Carter added, “Perhaps [jazz pianist] Jimmy Rowles said it best, ‘Music comes out of her. When [Ella] walks down the street . . . she leaves notes.’ ”
So does Carter, who celebrated Afro-pop at The Egg, then field hollers at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall — her last two area shows. When I saw her play back-to-back beautiful sets at Jazz Fest in New Orleans with two different bands, she played superbly in both. On Saturday at The Egg (Empire State Plaza), Carter plays with Xavier Davis, piano; Marvin Sewell, guitar; Chris Lightcap, bass; and Alvester Garnett, drums. 8 p.m. $34. 473-1845 www.theegg.org
Carter said she just finished recording a new album, “Ella: Accentuate the Positive,” due in April (Fitzgerald’s centennial). She discusses her creative process on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. at the University at Albany Performing Arts Center in “The Creative Life: A Conversation Series at UAlbany,” a free, open-to-the-public event of the New York State Writers Institute.
On Thursday, most unfortunately for fans of old-time string-band music, three hot trios play here: our own bluegrass heroes the Gibson Brothers at Caffe Lena (47 Phila St., Saratoga Springs), Nashville’s SteelDrivers at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall (30 Second St.) and Matt Flinner’s crew at the Cock N’ Bull (5342 Parkis Mills Road, Galway).
The Gibsons brought their quintet to the Hall last year, but they play the Caffe as a trio: guitarist Leigh Gibson, banjoist brother Eric Gibson and bassist Mike Barber. Popular everywhere, with 12 albums since 1994 and a mantel-full of bluegrass awards, our own Gibsons draw like Chowderfest on a cold day here. They play two shows Thursday, at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. $37 advance, $39 door, $18.50 students and children. 583-0022 www.caffelena.org
The SteelDrivers didn’t miss a beat when singer Chris Stapleton left for a superstar solo career; they won a Grammy last year for Best Bluegrass Album for “The Muscle Shoals Recordings” (2015).
String-band and country veterans, with one foot in tradition, the other striding ahead, the Steeldrivers are Richard Bailey, banjo; Mike Fleming, bass; Brent Truitt, mandolin; Tammy Rogers, fiddle, and Gary Nichols, guitar. They play with personality and depth, nimbly sidestepping bluegrass conventions some bands find confining. 7:30 p.m. $27. 273-0038 www.troymusichall.org
As if choosing between those two trios weren’t trouble enough, mandolin master Matt Flinner brings his trio back to the Cock N’ Bull on Thursday. Hailed as the next giant on the instrument after David “Dawg” Grisman, and a contemporary of fellow eight-string whiz Chris Thile, Flinner fuses bluegrass with jazz in tunes of zippy ingenuity. Like Thile, Flinner collaborates with jazz, folk, bluegrass and classical virtuosi. With his trio – Ross Martin, guitar; Eric Thorin, bass — Flinner has made three albums, most recently the appropriately titled “Winter Harvest.” 7:30 p.m.$15. 882-6962 www.thecocknbull.com.
Sorry I missed telling you that Flinner and the boys also played a dinner show at Wolf Hollow Brewing in Glenville last night; that would have helped resolve Thursday's too-many-shows conflict. I apologize to string-band fans and the Wolf Hollow crew.
CAFFE LENA BIG WEEKEND
In addition to the Gibson Brothers on Thursday, Caffe Lena (47 Phila St., Saratoga Springs) presents a full weekend.
Golfstrom plays antique European pop songs on Friday. The band — Jonathan Greene, clarinet; Sergei Nirenburg, accordion; Bobby Kendall, bass; and Brian Melick, percussion — found these buried-treasure tunes in old radio shows and songbooks. 8 p.m. $16 advance, $18 door, $9 students and children. 583-0022 www.caffelena.org
The Caffe’s full weekend also presents southern-style, New England-based bluegrass/zydeco quartet Pesky J. Nixon on Saturday playing lively, dancey tunes. They sing and play, and mock-bicker to humorous effect, like brothers: Ethan Baird, guitar; Jake Bush, accordion and keyboards; Dan Carp, percussion; and Kara Kulpa, mandolin and fiddle. Stars at Falcon Ridge, they’ve released three albums, “Red Ducks 2” most recently. 8 p.m. $14 advance, $16 door, $8 students and children.
Newest and potentially biggest name at the Caffe this weekend, Girl Blue (Albany singer-songwriter Arielle O’Keefe) returns to Lena’s on Sunday, where she wowed the crowd in last week’s Tom Waits tribute show. She earned the only encore of a star-filled night, with Sean Rowe, Mark Tolstrup, Tom Dimopoulos, Elrod MotherJudge McWatters and host Michael Eck. A former staff songwriter and online star with more than a million plays of her Spotify smash, “Fire Under Water,” she’s hotter than hot. 7 p.m. $10 advance, $12 door, $6 students and children.
Reach Gazette Columnist Michael Hochanadel at [email protected]