Ella: Accentuate the Positive
The wonderful jazz violinist Regina Carter helps celebrate the centennial of Ella Fitzgerald on her latest recording. Speaking of Ella, she explains, "One of the many things that I adore about Ella is that she just loved music and didn't box herself in. She recorded everything, not just the American Songbook--doo-wop, Stevie Wonder and Beatles songs, even some country western music. The fact that she experimented with so many different styles made me feel that, with this record, I would pay respect to her by taking the music and doing something else with it. I feel that she would smile in agreement."
To realize this vision, which transforms the songs through a lens of classic 1950s-'60s soul and blues, Carter calls on an impressive roster of musicians and arrangers including her longtime rhythm section of bassist Chris Lightcap and drummer Alvester Garnett. She is also joined by pianist Xavier Davis and guitarist Marvin Sewell, both of whom serve double-duty as arrangers, and they hey are supplemented by bassist Ben Williams; producer and hitmaker, Ray Angry; vocalist, Charnee Wade and pianist Mike Wofford; Fitzgerald's own former accompanist and musical director. Two tracks feature vocals by Regina's fellow Detroiters, actress and singer, Miche Braden; and longtime friend and vocalist extraordinaire, Carla Cook.
The result of this imaginative fusion is an album that is less akin to Ella's own music as opposed to taking songs associated with Ella as springboard for Carter's imagination and strong musical personality. Braden contributes a soulful, let's go to church, vocal on the opening "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive," with a funky groove underlying comping from pianist Davis, Williams rock solid bass before Sewell's blues-rock toned guitar and Carter's own full-bodied, and free ranging violin. A nice take on "Crying in the Chapel," showcases the warmth and romanticism Carter invests her playing with with Davis on Fender Rhodes and Sewell adding a neat riff. Bassist Lightcap provided the bluesy arrangement for "I’ll Never Be Free,” with Davis' accompaniment complementing Carter's very bluesy playing.
Wofford arranged the piano, bass, violin trio performance of "Dedicated To You," with Carter at her lyrical best. Another highlight is the most charming, intimate duo between Carter and guitarist Sewell on "Judy," a song the performance of which at the Apollo Theater jump-started Fitzgerald’s career. Wade's R&B flavored take opens "Undecided," which after some vibrant violin also features strong singing from Cook. Sewell's slide guitar provides a down home blues feel for "I'll Chase the Blues Away," with some down-in-the-alley violin opening segueing into a bluesy small band performance with biting slide guitar interacting with Carter's violin and Fender Rhodes on a rootsy close to an imaginative, captivating tribute to the great Ella Fitzgerald
I received as a download from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 375). Here is a video Regina made to promote her recording celebrating Ella Fitzgerald.