Wednesday, August 5, 2020

America The Dutiful & The Beauty-filled

Hard to ignore in the midst of the pandemic the fact that 2020 is a Presidential Election year with the one, arguably, the most fraught since 1860.  Regina Carter has put together a new ensemble, dubbed it the Freedom Band, and, tougher, they create "Swing States: Harmony in the Battleground" (Tiger Turn/eOne).  Ms. Carter (Michigan) joins with bassist, percussionist, and co-producer Kabir Sehgal (Georgia), trumpeter, arranger and co-producer John Daversa (Florida), drummer Harvey Mason (Kansas), pianist Jon Batiste (Louisiana), and bassist Alexis Cuadrado and tenor saxophonist Brian Gorrell (on four tracks) ––Doug Davis and Harvey Mason, Jr also serve as co-producers––to create a musical journey through a number of US states that will loom large in the coming election.

Along the way, the listener stops for a swinging take on "Georgia On My Mind", a bouncy reading of "Rocky Mountain High", a playful "You Are My Sunshine" kicked off with a sweet, minor-key flourish from pianist Batiste.  Ms. Carter pays tribute to Michigan and, especially, Detroit with a lovely ballad reading of "Dancing In The Streets" (originally released by Berry Gordy in 1964 to help quell the various riots occurring in large American cities: strangely enough, the song was also used by protesters to complain about police brutality and more). Daversa introduces "Swanee River" which also gets a bluesy ballad treatment featuring his delightful trumpet work as some fine "down home" fiddle from the leader. "Swanee" (the river) is a adapted name from the "Suwanee" River that runs from Georgia through Florida.

Right in the middle of the program is short, unaccompanied, performance by Ms. Carter on the traditional "We Shall Overcome"––that's one of the only tracks one could consider "political" in nature along with the violinist's spoken plea to make sure and vote. That seems sad to comprehend for this writer who was taught by his parents that voting, like living in a democracy, is not a right to take lightly.

There are delightful musical treks through "Pennsylvania" and Wisconsin (the off-kilter take of the old football fight song "On Wisconsin").  The album closes with a short (but sweet) tribute to "Faygo", a soft drink made in Detroit. MI.  It's a fascinating way to close this often light-hearted journey but reminds one that so much of this music could be considered nostalgic. The underlying message is that we can rearrange and change the plentiful wrongs in the United States by paying attention to our communities and states, working together, speaking and listening to each other, and voting.  You can hum these tunes while marching, while writing to your Congress people, and in the voting booth.

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Hear Ms. Carter and the Freedom Band's take on "Georgia On My Mind":

Photo: Christopher Georgia
Biophilia Records is the right home for the duo Endless Field. Bassist/ composer Ike Sturm and guitarist/ composer Jesse Lewis makes music that celebrates the richness of the outdoors, the myriad stars, moons, and constellations that fill the nighttime sky. The record label, the brainchild of pianist Fabian Almazan, produces no CDs; the music is available as download only but they do create a lovely Origami-inspired recording jacket for notes, photos, and more. The jacket is produced from all recycled materials using plant-based inks.

The duo's third album bears the title "Alive In The Wilderness" and truly lives up to its name. The duo recorded outdoors in Utah with engineers Dana Nielsen and Phillip Broussard, Jr. working with equipment using only solar power. The videos created for the project by Christopher Georgia and Brandon Sargeant also use solar-powered equipment.  On many of the tracks, one can hearing running water from streams and brooks, animals and birds in the background, wind flowing past the microphones, and more. All the outdoor noises helps one concentrate on the music which, with few exceptions, is quite contemplative. Therefore, it should as no surprise this music is about calm, about nature, about one's place in the environment, about evaluation and re-evaluation, about peace, and about creativity.

The music may be best experienced on the porch in early morning and/or early evening. Play the program all the way through (55 minutes), enjoying the melodies, the interplay, the deep tones of Sturm's bass and the clean tones of Lewis's steel-string guitar. Enjoy the surprises along the way––there's the funky, percussive, "Zim" (listen below), the throbbing sound of "Fire", the classically inspired "Heart", the folky joy of "Dance of the Bee", the hard-driving "Moon", and the iridescent "Prayer for the Earth."

Such delightful music!  "Alive In the Wilderness" is just that––alive with many possibilities, joys, and discoveries. Endless Field continues to explore the endless possibilities of acoustic music and we are the beneficiaries.

For more information, go to  Purchase the music at

Here's the lively, percussive, and melodic "Zim":

Here's the video trailer:

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