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Take Five: Somi, Anna Webber, David Virelles, Eddie Henderson, Regina Carter Freedom Band

Regina Carter Freedom Band, “Rocky Mountain High”

Violinist and bandleader Regina Carter hails from a swing state: as a proud daughter of Detroit, she’s also a native Michigander. Recently she got to thinking about the political divisions in our nation, and the fact that we’re approaching the threshold of a presidential election. These thoughts led her to create the Regina Carter Freedom Band and a related new album, Swing States: Harmony in the Battleground.

The album, just out on Tiger Turn/eOne, features an array of songs closely associated with swing states — like Florida (“Swanee River”), Wisconsin (“On Wisconsin!”) and Georgia (“Georgia On My Mind”). Her own home state is represented both by a version of the Motown classic “Dancing in the Street” and a deeper cut, the https://youtu.be/01ppc4KIKNE" target="_blank">Faygo boat song. There’s also an upbeat take on “Rocky Mountain High,” the John Denver smash that doubles as a state song of Colorado.

Along with Carter’s singing violin, “Rocky Mountain High” features the effervescent talents of everyone in the Freedom Band: trumpeter and arranger John Daversa, pianist Jon Batiste, bassists Alexis Cuadrado and Kabir Sehgal, and drummer Harvey Mason. (Also featured on the track is Brian Gorrell, a tenor saxophonist and noted jazz educator in Oklahoma — which is decisively not a swing state, though I’m sure he does his part to keep it swinging.) 

Regina Carter will take part in a special virtual event for WBGO members on Aug. 13; details to come by email this week. Not a member? Learn how you can support WBGO.

Eddie Henderson, “Shuffle and Deal”

The title track of trumpeter Eddie Henderson’s new album, Shuffle and Deal, might conjure the mental picture of a poker table, but there’s another slippery meaning to the phrase. Within the first few measures, it becomes clear: Henderson set the song to a shuffle beat, imbuing it with his usual swagger. “Shuffle and Deal” is an apt description of what happens in the tune; it’s also, one would surmise, the basic substance of his unspoken instruction to the band.

Henderson, who turns 80 this fall, is still in exceptional form as a trumpeter, and he owns the captain’s chair as a bandleader. Shuffle and Deal features him with an all-star crew: pianist and NEA Jazz Master Kenny Barron, alto saxophonist Donald Harrison, bassist Gerald Cannon and drummer Mike Clark. The album covers a lot of ground — delicate ballads as well as brisk bop workouts — and this opener signals what you’re in for. (Shuffle and Deal is available on Smoke Sessions Records.)

Anna Webber, “Rectangles 3”

As you may recall, tenor saxophonist and flutist Anna Webber had one of the breakout albums of 2019 in Clockwise, on Pi Recordings. That release, inspired by the work of 20th-century composers like Xenakis and Cage, was noted for its meticulous design; it felt as calibrated as the title suggests. Webber’s new release, Rectangles, sounds a lot looser and more rough-hewn, intentionally so. Recorded last December on a gig in Queens, NY, it finds Webber with a rhythm team of Marc Hannaford on piano, Adam Hopkins on bass and Mark Ferber on drums — playing a single, unbroken 35-minute piece with all the fire you could want.


Rectangles comes under the banner of OOYH Untamed, a COVID-era digital release series from Out of Your Head Records. (It’s an artist-run Brooklyn label; Hopkins is one of its founders.) All proceeds from Untamed releases go directly to the artists — and for every sale of Rectangles, the label will donate a dollar to the Bronx Defenders, a nonprofit selected by Webber.

David Virelles, “Babujal”

Speaking of artists with ties to Pi Recordings, and COVID-era digital release strategies: the Cuban pianist and composer David Virelles has an EP due out this Friday, under Pi’s ongoing series “This is Now.” Recorded during home quarantine, this release bears the title Transformación del Arcoiris, and falls on the experimental end of the sonic spectrum. “Babujal,” which has its premiere here, incorporates aspects of Musique concrete, with Virelles on samplers, synths and electronics.


Virelles, who mainly records for ECM Records, dipped a toe in these waters on a 2016 EP called Antenna; as on that release, he works here with Los Seres, an Afro-Cuban street percussion ensemble that he conjured. (By which I mean: it’s a work of fiction, all programmed by Virelles.)

Another new invention worth flagging: Virelles is about to start a podcast for the Latin-music network Colección Gladys Palmera, selecting music from the archive and also chronicling the scene in New York.

Transformación del Arcoiris releases this Friday on Pi Recordings.

Somi, “Holy Room”

Last year, the singer-songwriter known as Somi made her first recording with a big band — traveling to Europe to perform with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, at the invitation of its manager, Olaf Stötzler. Performing songs from her studio albums Petite Afrique (2017) and The Lagos Music Salon (2014), Somi enlisted John Beasley as her arranger and conductor. The resulting concert has now seen release on Bandcamp as Holy Room — Live at Alte Oper with Frankfurt Radio Big Band.

“Holy Room,” originally featured on Petite Afrique, is a song of devotion that puts romantic love on a metaphysical plane. “Our hands like prayer touching through the dark,” Somi sings, shortly before the chorus, which takes the form of the common Islamic expression of faith. The orchestration is subtle but supportive, with woodwinds and brass fluttering calmly — not only beneath the vocals but also behind a West African-inspired solo by her guitarist, Hervé Samb. When the song ends and Somi thanks her German audience, it’s almost surprising to be brought out of the performance, which feels more like an enveloping mood.

Holy Room: Live at Alte Oper with Frankfurt Radio Big Band is available now. A portion of the proceeds benefit Black Art Futures Fund.

A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, Nate Chinen is editorial director at WBGO and a regular contributor to NPR Music.