From the rolling, Appalachia-tinged fanfare that opens “Accentuate the Positive,” it’s apparent that we’re not in standard Ella-tribute territory. Regina Carter’s violin has a quality suggestive of leading us back to the woods, where an impromptu rustic dance is happening with plenty of attendant good feeling. Welcome, then, to a corner of the Ella Fitzgerald world at some remove from the well-trod path.
In the liners, Carter mentions how Fitzgerald could reach her at her core, so it’s fitting that this is music directed straight to the gut. The arrangements—as on “Crying in the Chapel”—steer toward the subtly artful, straddling the line between the sonic accouterments of midcentury jazz, with its lived-in warmth, and something more sylvan. Drummer Alvester Garnett provides supple little skip beats that sashay the music on its way, opening space for Carter’s violin to conjure associations with the luminous figure while never resorting to mimicry.
That the band—also including guitarist Marvin Sewell, pianist Xavier Davis, bassist Chris Lightcap and guest singers Miche Braden and Carla Cook—is as tight as some of the classic units that backed Fitzgerald certainly helps. “I’ll Never Be Free” quotes “Sittin’ on Top of the World,” which seems like a musical comment on this level of musicianship. The closing “I’ll Chase the Blues Away” is no empty boast. The blues were never more than a few paces away in Fitzgerald’s music, much like Basie’s or Parker’s. But it was the blues that brought the light in terms of musical possibilities, so don a pair of shades when “Chase” modulates into a swampy, bass-driven Slim Harpo groove. If you hadn’t previously imagined Ella Fitzgerald dancing, you’ll start here.