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Veronica Swift: This Bitter Earth

C. Michael Bailey BY

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Veronica Swift: This Bitter Earth
It seems jazz vocalist Veronica Swift has been in the music business all of her life, and for good reason: There is the well documented fact that she is the daughter of jazz pianist Hod O'Brien and singer Stephanie Nakasian, and she debuted on record at nine years old with Veronica's House of Jazz (SNOB, 2004). Since that time, Swift has recorded in a variety of settings, including on the uniformly excellent The Birdland Big Band Live (CD Baby, 2018), before producing her full-bore Mack Avenue debut with Confessions (2019), recorded with the trios of pianists Emmet Cohen and Benny Green. With Confessions, Swift gained both commercial traction and critical purchase, all by the deceptively tender age of 25-years old. The singer returns with the socially serious and finely crafted This Bitter Earth.

Confessions was curated with great care, deftly avoiding the heart of the Great American Songbook in favor of its rich marrow. Featured were forward thinking performances of Johnny Hodges' "A Little Taste" and Dory and Andre Previn's "You're Gonna Hear From Me." Equal care was invested in programming This Bitter Earth but that care took on a darker more disquieting hew. This recording has been compared to other suite-similar song cycles like Marvin Gaye's What's Going On and Kate Bush's Hounds of Love. Social justice and its absence is on Swift's mind and she confronts it with a collection of songs assembled with devastating ingenuity. Swift addresses sexism directly on a rollicking "How Lovely to Be a Woman," while stripping off the scab, revealing the proud flesh of domestic abuse on the Crystal's "He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)," in a performance that is bracing and difficult (damn near impossible) to hear. The singer takes on racism with the perfectly chosen "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught" from South Pacific, belting it out with a sardonic smile and sarcastic wit.

Swift is supported by her frequent collaborators pianist Emmet Cohen, guitarist Armand Hirsch, flautist Aaron J Johnson, bassist Yasushi Nakamura, and drummer Bryan Carter. This group is more than up to the challenge of performing with the most original and commanding voice to emerge early in this century in any musical genre. What Cassandra Wilson was to the 1990s, Veronica Swift is to the 2020s. Her singing is infectious: "Getting To Know You," "Everybody Has The Right To Be Wrong," and "Prisoner Of Love" all reveal different facets of Swift's commanding talent, while never getting close to the end of it. It is a gift that Swift is as young as she is, and likewise talented, because this ensures that there is more, and better, music to come.

Track Listing

This Bitter Earth; How Lovely to Be a Woman; You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught; Getting to Know You; The Man I Love; You’re the Dangerous Type; Trust in Me; He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss); As Long as He Needs Me; Everybody Has the Right to Be Wrong; Prisoner of Love; The Sports Page; Sing.

Personnel

Veronica Swift: voice / vocals; Emmet Cohen: piano; Yashushi Nakamura: bass; Bryan Carter: drums; Aaron Johnson: saxophone, alto; Armand Hirsch: guitar.

Additional Instrumentation

Lavinia Pavlish: violin; Meitar Forkosh: violin; Andrew Griffin: viola; Susan D. Mandel: cello: Steven Feifke: background vocals; Ryan Paternite: background vocals; Will Wakefield: background vocals; Stone Robinson Elementary School Choir: background vocals; Walton Middle School Girls Choir: background vocals.

Album information

Title: This Bitter Earth | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Mack Avenue Records

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