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CONCORD JAZZ CD 30138 [55:39]




Nightmoves [4:22]
Tight [2:53]
Change Partners / If You Never Come To Me [7:38]
Undun [5:07]
Where Are You My Love? [5:26]
And We Will Fly [4:20]
The Waking [4:11]
The Sleepers [5:27]
Leaving Again / In The Wee Small Hours [5:03]
A New Body and Soul [10:19]
I Like The Sunrise [6:53]
Collective personnel: Kurt Elling (vocal), The Escher String Quartet, Bob Mintzer (tenor sax), Howard Levy (harmonica), Grégoire Maret (harmonica), Laurence Hobgood (piano), Rob Mounsey (electric piano, keyboards), Guilherme Monteiro (guitar), Christian McBride (bass), Rob Amster (bass), Willie Jones III (drums, shakers)
Recorded 2007, New York

The upper echelons of jazz singing are largely occupied by female vocalists. Against such great figures as Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Betty Carter and many many more (there’s a plethora of good female singers at present too), one can place only a few names of male vocalists, such as Louis Armstrong, Billie Eckstine (in some of his work, at any rate), maybe Johnny Hartman, Mark Murphy, Jon Hendricks and a few others. Singers such as Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett are only occasionally ‘jazz’ singers in anything like the real sense of the phrase.

Kurt Elling very definitely merits a place in the select company of the major male jazz singers. Anyone with a fondness for vocal jazz who isn’t familiar with Elling’s work should certainly get themselves a copy of this new CD (or, indeed one of his earlier recordings, his level of achievement being pretty consistent).

Elling has tremendous vocal control and sense of pitch. H can do vocal pyrotechnics with the best of them but never seems to indulge in them for their own sake. Above all he adds to his purely musical accomplishments (as it were) a prodigious sensibility to the potential of his verbal texts and a clarity of diction that can do justice to it and them. He is that rare sort of singer (in whatever field) who makes one suspect that they would also be fine readers of poetry (as Cleo Laine, for example, is).

Here Elling is heard in a variety of more or less intimate contexts. In ‘The Waking’, which sets a poem by Theodore Roethke, Elling is accompanied (very well) by just the bass of Rob Amster. A delightful medley unites Sinatra’s ‘In The Wee Small Hours’ with Keith Jarrett’s ‘Leaving Again’; this last was an improvisation on Jarrett’s 1994 box set Keith Jarrett At the Blue Note, to which Elling has added lyrics. In this medley Elling is supported by the piano of Laurence Hobgood. The opener, Nightmoves (written by Michael Franks and Michael Small) finds Elling backed by a quintet of tenor sax, piano, electric keyboards, bass and drums. Bob Mintzer’s solo work here is of the highest quality. On the Adamson-McHugh standard ‘Where Are You, My Love’, the vocalist is supported by piano trio and string quartet, in an exquisite arrangement by Laurence Hobgood and is built around a Dexter Gordon solo on the original melody. ‘A New Body and Soul’ presents Elling’s vocalese lyrics (accompanied this time by piano trio alone) to another Dexter Gordon improvisation. With contributions on other tracks by the guitar of Guilhermo Monteiro and the harmonicas of Grégoire Maret and Howard Levy, there is constant variation of instrumental textures.

This is an album richly illustrative of Elling’s talents and intelligence as a singer. Though plenty of thought and preparation have clearly gone in to the making of the album, it never feels remotely overproduced.

This is the state of the art as far as contemporary male jazz singing goes. A thoroughly satisfying album – save that it leaves one wanting more when it finishes!

Glyn Pursglove


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