Grammy Award winning vocalist Kurt Elling will release his tenth recording as a leader titled, 1619 Broadway —The Brill Building Project (Concord Jazz), on Tuesday, September 25, 2012. Of his ten recordings several of them including Close Your Eyes, Live in Chicago and Dedicated to You: Kurt Elling Sings the Music of Coltrane and Hartman were made in homage to his hometown of Chicago; The Brill Building Project, however, is dedicated to the place he and his family have called home since 2008: New York City. Featuring songs written by songwriters who either came to prominence during their time as business tenants in the Brill Building or who were associated with the Building in some way, Elling's handling of the selected material inspires a thought based on a different song lyric: he did it his way. And, it was good. How very New York.
The Brill Building Project isn't the first jazz recording to feature re-made versions of pop, rock or soul classics, but, after hearing it, it surely can stake a claim as one of the best.
The disc opens with a hip re-arrangement of a song written by songwriting teams Jerry Leiber/Mike Stoller and Cynthia Weil/Barry Mann and made famous by George Benson, "On Broadway." The song begins with a bit of theatrics that may be based in part on real life experiences—club owners turning down a jazz singer who's looking to find somewhere to perform. The groovy bass-line clears a path for Elling who vocally grabs hold of the lyrics, strips them to their core and then recreates them, turning them into something custom made just for Elling.
The re-working given to "Come Fly Away with Me" (written by Sammy Cahn and James Van Heusen) benefits from smooth touches of soul that make this something the great Sinatra himself might have tried to emulate. The music is subtle in some places and prominent in others, but it elevates Elling vocally from start to finish. The song seems to get better as the two draw strength from each other; this is where Elling sounds his most uninhibited and it's beautiful to hear.
On the Sam Cooke penned "You Send Me," Elling's delivery adds some slight carnal overtones that weren't present in the original version of the romantic ballad. The way he manages to transform the song is like an extra dash of hot sauce in a gumbo already thought to be perfectly seasoned—it's a little something extra on an already timeless and perfectly executed song.
"Shoppin' for Clothes" (written by Leiber/Stoller and Kent Harris) is a fun and funny stand-out on the recording. The spoken-word storytelling set to music offering serves as an aural palette cleanser for listeners—it's performed more in the style of a scene from a play than it is a Billboard chart-topping single, but it still comes away as something you want to hear. What makes it most fun is that as the lyrics progress, there are probably few people who can't relate to how the tale unfolds. The faint lyric at the end "you wouldn't treat Pizzarelli this way" is hysterical. The song's a great, light-hearted addition to the recording.
Paul Simon's "American Tune" remains strikingly simple with Elling accompanied only by piano. Elling protects the integrity of the lyrics, singing as simply and intentionally as the song demands. It is by far the best performance on the recording. Though Carole King's version of "So Far Away" and Luther Vandross's version of the Burt Bacharach and Hal David penned "A House is Not A Home" are tough acts to follow, Elling delivers as only he can.
He's a brilliant singer and The Brill Building Project was a very well executed recording. Elling had better get ready for Grammy season. Grammy nomination number ten is sure to come.