Title: Swing States: Harmony in the Battleground
Artist: Regina Carter Freedom Band
Label: Tiger Turn
Release date: July 31, 2020
Virtuoso jazz violinist Regina Carter has a history of releasing music that celebrates Black culture, whether commemorating the 100th anniversary of Ella Fitzgerald or her father’s roots on Southern Comfort. Yet at this pivotal point in history, with the COVID-19 pandemic surging unabated in tandem with protests and civil unrest, Carter has chosen a more politically charged theme. Swing States: Harmony in the Battleground is her urgent message to those who have not taken part in the democratic process, extolling them to get out and exercise their right to vote. The title, she explains, speaks to the current state of the nation: “We are living in surreal times…we have become a divided country of Red vs. Blue, Us vs. Them or Not Our Kind, and that pot is starting to boil over.” Rest assured, however, that both hope and harmony are encouraged across the album’s 14 tracks as Carter and her band of jazz luminaries take the listener on a tour from sea to shining sea.
Opening with a recorded message over jazzy strains of “America the Beautiful,” Carter celebrates the country’s diversity while lamenting that at election time “people start looking at each other differently because of the way we vote. Instead, we should be respecting each other and wanting our fellow man to have the same things we want for our families.”
The journey across Swing States begins in the South, with Carter’s rendition of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia on My Mind” featuring pianist Jon Batiste, drummer Harvey Mason, and John Daversa on trumpet and flugelhorn. John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High” is transformed from a syrupy standard into a showcase for Carter’s freeform solo over a Latin beat. The ode to Carter’s hometown, “Dancing in the Street Detroit Michigan,” bears little resemblance to the joyful version by Martha Reeves & The Vandellas. Opening in the style of a somber spiritual, Carter reveals great emotional depth, perhaps longing for a time when joy was an appropriate response to actions taking place on the streets of America. Another highlight is Carter’s arrangement of Charles Albert Tindley’s “We Shall Overcome” for solo violin, a brief yet poignant interlude that recalls the ugliness her grandparents went through during the Civil Rights Movement in order to vote.
Interspersed throughout are tracks featuring testimonials set to music from members of the ensemble, followed by related songs. “Jon Batiste 504,” a shout-out to Louisiana and music as the universal language of love and truth, is bookended by “You Are My Sunshine Louisiana.” “Harvey Mason in Kansas,” extolling jazz and barbecue, is followed by an intricate arrangement of “Home on the Range” that features solo turns from each member of the ensemble. “John Daversa in the Everglades,” recalling his mosquito-filled introduction to Miami, is paired with a blackened and bluesy reappraisal of Stephen Foster’s “Swanee River.” Other members of the ensemble that swing the grooves include Alexis Cuadrado on bass, Kabir Sehgal on bass and percussion, and Brian Gorrell on tenor sax.
Whether you swing towards red, blue or purple, Swing States offers “a beacon of hope during these unprecedented times” by stressing the commonalities and shared experiences in all corners of our nation. Kudos to Carter and her crew, who give a phenomenal performance!
Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss