By Howard Mandel | Published July 2017
Regina Carter’s keening violin is one positive attribute on this tribute to centenary honoree Ella Fitzgerald. Her band’s easy blend is another. The idea of refreshing lesser-known bits of the First Lady of Song’s catalog is a third.
The album’s guiding principle is that smartly arranged, sensitively played interpretations of tunes Fitzgerald imbued with warmth and joy will cast the “personal connection” with listeners that Carter herself felt upon discovering Ella’s voice in her parents’ record collection. Carter has previously covered Ella standbys, but here she addresses compositions including “I’ll Never Be Free,” “Reach For Tomorrow” and “Dedicated To You” with the undercurrents of profound longing that gave depth to the great singer’s typically sunny exterior.
These choices work for the instrumentals. Carter’s violin is prominent, of course, cogent and often pungent. She’s cushioned by longstanding accompanists Xavier Davis on piano, Chris Lightcap on bass and Alvester Garnett on drums. Charts by Ray Angry, Ben Williams, Charenée Wade, Mike Wofford and Marvin Sewell offer distinctive counterparts, rhythm shifts and deft deployment of electric piano, bass and guitars.
The two pieces with singers depart somewhat from the main mood. The Mercer/Arlen title track, usually offered as swinging advice, gets a dark makeover, urgently delivered by Miche Braden. Carla Cook’s “Undecided” is coolly coy, with a funky bass line and brief background overdubs. Neither singer alludes to Fitzgerald, but instead provide, as Fitzgerald did, some of the immediate accessibility that makes jazz popular.
Ella: Accentuate The Positive: Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive; Crying In The Chapel; I’ll Never Be Free; All My Life; Dedicated To You; Reach For Tomorrow; Undecided; Judy; I’ll Chase The Blues Away.
Personnel: Regina Carter, violin; Marvin Sewell, guitars; Xavier Davis, keyboards; Chris Lightcap, bass; Alvester Garnett, drums, percussion; Miche Braden (1), Carla Cook (7), vocals.