There is arguably no other single location in the history of American popular music that resonates more in history than the Brill Building in New York City, where composers like Carole King, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, Neil Diamond, Burt Bacharach and Hal David all churned out countless hits. The building was recently in the news when it was reported that iconic music store Colony Records (which was housed there) had gone out of business after over four decades due to declining sales of physical records and sheet music.
Kurt Elling celebrates the legacy of the Brill Building with "1619 Broadway" (Concord), a very personal collection of songs composed during those years. But Elling does not just cover those tunes, he gives a highly personal take–for instance, on the opener "On Broadway" he improvises around the melody with great dexterity while doing an incredible update on "Pleasant Valley Sunday" that keeps the rock edge while still maintaining a certain jazz inflection. He also gives us what will be hailed as a definitive interpretation of "I Only Have Eyes For You" that gives you goose bumps the moment you hear it. Bassist Christian McBride makes a hilarious vocal appearance on "Shoppin' For Clothes' as a clothing salesman interacting with Elling's down-and-out shopper.
The arrangements are impeccable, and the band formed by Laurence Hobgood (piano), John McLean (guitar), Clark Sommers (bass) and Kendrick Scott (drums and congas) are the perfect backdrop for Elling's rich baritone, and guests like Joel Frahm and Ernie Watts (saxophone) complement the music like a fine wine to a sumptuous meal.