Kurt Elling is the closest jazz will ever get to having its own saint. The singer's soothing, devotional timbre of his voice's lower register can rise to great heights of exaltation, which we hear in his version of Paul Simon's "American Tune" — flat out the greatest reworking of a familiar pop song since Ray Charles recorded Hoagy Carmichael's "Georgia On My Mind" in 1960.
Paying homage to Manhattan's most famous songwriting address — that of the famed Brill Building — 1619 Broadway celebrates Carole King with its ethereal version of her "So Far Away." Elling's version of Sam Cooke's "You Send Me" can't match the silken ease of Cooke's original take, but his meditative "A House is Not a Home" by Burt Bacharach and Hal David shows why Elling rightly describes himself as a "half poet."
But all is not introspection, Elling's specialty. "On Broadway," arranged by the singer and Laurence Hobgood, is a swinging reconstruction of the original Drifters 1963 hit starting the album — but only after we hear a litany of rejections, reenacted with the sort of brash nastiness that's been all too familiar to the likely thousands of songwriting wannabes who didn't make it at 1619 Broadway.
Four stars: * * * *