The dapper, soul-patched, off-handed Kurt Elling has said in performance, "I was brought up on 4/4 time." That's hardly an unusual influence for a singer, but as he's put his gritty baritone to work over the last couple decades, he's taken irrepressible liberties with that commonplace signature. So much so there are times when an Elling addict (as anyone must become on a first exposure to him) isn't sure whether the hard-edged jazz crooner isn't now chanting in 17/4 or 29/4 or who-knows-what/4.
On the already Grammy-nominated 1619 Broadway - The Brill Building Project (Concord Jazz), Elling frees his inclinations to the kinds of classic Tin Pan Alley numbers spawned either in the edifice he honors in his title or numbers that have been composed in the spirit of the revered Manhattan spot.
With his "On Broadway" opener -- preceded by voices amusingly discouraging a wannabe roaming the 1619 hall -- he acknowledges the alliance of high-royalties teams Mike Stoller and Jerry Leiber and Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. His follow-up "Come Fly With Me," which Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen probably didn't write on the focal location, gets an interpretation that can be heard not as an invitation to join the singer on a trip to the destinations mentioned in the lyric but, instead, to get as high on the music as he clearly is.
Yes, the entire album -- mostly arranged by him and 18-year-long accompanist Laurence Hobgood soars -- like a multi-colored kite. The range is wide and includes a treatment of Paul Simon's "American Tune" that's a true heart-breaker.
N.B.: Elling is promoting the disk in current gigs during which he unleashes variations on the recorded 1619 Broadway inclusions. Dropping studio conveniences like over-dubbing and the addition of horns to his on-stage four-man band, he substitutes numerous scatting breaks that are drop-dead amazing in their accumulation of diga-diga-dos and the like.