Regina Carter – Ella: Accentuate the Positive (OKeh)
On this beguiling tribute album, violinist Regina Carter honors Ella Fitzgerald with exceptional warmth and sincerity. Rather than playing like a greatest hits record, Ella: Accentuate the Positive draws from the lesser-known corners of Fitzgerald’s extensive repertoire. The album is equally subversive in its stylistic diversity, with the band ably incorporating a range of blues, soul, gospel and R&B forms without rendering a single tune in the straight-ahead swing idiom favored by Fitzgerald herself.
The title track serves as a starting pistol for the record. A series of explosive gestures — marked by Carter’s ecstatic swoops and tremolos — set the stage for Miche Braden’s bluesy vocal introduction before a snappy fusion groove strikes up, showcasing the group’s celebratory disposition.
Most of the album’s nine tracks are instrumentals, but the violinist’s phrasing alludes to Fitzgerald’s signature combination of intimacy and stateliness. On “Judy,” a playful duet with guitarist Marvin Sewell, Carter’s smooth tone sounds uncannily vocal, her precise articulation evoking Fitzgerald’s notorious attention to diction.
In contrast with his subdued acoustic tone on “Judy,” Sewell applies rootsy distortion to his sublime slide-guitar accompaniment on the closing track, “I’ll Chase the Blues Away.” Bassist Chris Lightcap achieves a similar degree of lyricism with his freewheeling solo on the ballad “Dedicated to You,” a sentimental foil to the handful of hard-hitting numbers like “Crying in the Chapel,” and “I’ll Never Be Free.”
Drummer Alvester Garnett lays down an understated but passionate framework throughout, epitomizing the earnestness and humility that characterizes the group as a whole. Instead of flaunting their virtuosity and knowledge of esoteric harmony, the band opts for a more reserved and considerate mode of expression. True to its name, the diverse terrain of Ella: Accentuate the Positive is unified by a tangible sense of joy and reverence for the source material.