This Bitter Earth
“This bitter earth/Well, what a fruit it bears.” That’s the key lyric in the Clyde Otis-penned 1960 star vehicle for Dinah Washington, also the title track on Veronica Swift’s sophomore Mack Avenue release. The opening is somewhat deceptive, a dramatic rendering with just Emmet Cohen’s elegant piano framed by string quartet, giving little hint of the swinging heat to come. But Swift, in excellent voice, wants to set a substantive tone, with an edge of slyly delivered social commentary.
Then it’s off to the races with Cohen, bassist Yasushi Nakamura, and drummer Bryan Carter. Much like her 2019 debut, Confessions, This Bitter Earth finds Swift choosing songs across the genre gamut and transforming them with her powerful, swing-honed sensibility. On the jazz-vocal tip, she continues to display a fondness for Dave Frishberg, whose “I’m Hip” she covered on Confessions. This time, she tackles Frishberg’s “The Sports Page,” which can be heard as a dry commentary on the undermining of democracy (“You can’t change the score by telling lies”). Frishberg’s kindred spirit Bob Dorough also gets a nod with the fiercely boppish and smartly arranged “You’re the Dangerous Type,” featuring Aaron Johnson as Swift’s foil on alto sax.
Swift brings it home with Broadway classics (“You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught,” “Getting to Know You”), time-honored vehicles for Sinatra (“Everybody Has the Right to Be Wrong”) and Billy Eckstine (“Prisoner of Love”), and other songs off the beaten path (the somewhat chilling vocal/guitar duet with Armand Hirsch on Gerry Goffin & Carole King’s “He Hit Me [And It Felt Like a Kiss]”). It adds up to a personal, nuanced, unpredictable statement on sexism, xenophobia, misinformation, and other ills of the time, delivered with soul and tremendous technical aplomb.