To say that vocalist Kurt Elling has tremendous range only reveals part of the picture. Listening to Live at MCG with Kurt Elling (MCG Jazz, 2004), which he recorded with the Bob Mintzer Big Band, Elling's seemingly effortless move from low to high and back, whether singing lyrics or scatting, is a jaw-dropping experience. The seven-time Grammy nominee and 2006 Down Beat Male Vocalist of the Year now exhibits his range in another way.
Nightmoves, his Concord Records debut, weaves literary elements with vocal dexterity and good jazz. Backed by a small ensemble that includes Laurence Hobgood on piano, Willie Jones III on drums and percussion, Christian McBride and Rob Amster on bass, and Mintzer playing tenor sax, Elling pays tribute to several musical icons: Antonio Carlos Jobim, Betty Carter, Duke Ellington, Dexter Gordon, Keith Jarrett, Frank Sinatra and even The Guess Who.
"Love is like two dreamers dreaming the same dream,â€ Elling sings with passion on the title song, a remake of a Michael Franks track. Mintzer's tenor adds a little punch to this ballad. Jones and Hobgood help set the pace for the melodramatic "Undun.â€ Elling and his sidemen bring some soul-jazz to this 1969 song by The Guess Who. Mintzer adds a blistering solo. Elling and Amster perform a duet on "The Waking,â€ set to a 1953 poem by Theodore Roethke. Jones adds a bit of percussion to this elegant piece, in which Elling, classified as a baritone, gives a taste of falsetto.
On some of the tracks, such as the classic "Body and Soulâ€â€”here titled "A New Body and Soulâ€â€”Elling adds new lyrics or creates original lyrics for previously instrumental compositions, an art known as vocalese. Regardless of how the words came to be, the emphasis on Nightmoves is the voice. Up-tempo or laidback, Elling delivers an exceptional album.