To say that Kurt Elling and Frank Sinatra have a lot in common would be an understatement at best. Sinatra shaped his era's musical landscape and was its dominant force for decades. Elling, too, is shaping the contemporary male jazz scene, having won the Downbeat Critics Poll for the past 14 years. With his four-octave baritone, Elling is the principal king of improv scatting, adding his poetic vocalese over stunning instrumental interludes and imaginative stylistic adaptions that make him an innovator, as was Sinatra.
Elling's first set of Sinatra material kept things close to Ol' Blue Eyes's original arrangements, but always interjecting the characteristic Elling signature of floating a single syllable across multiple octaves. While Sinatra's sound was predictably sure, Elling's is flexible and imaginative. Sinatra's phrasing is often clipped, while Elling's is fluid and softer. "Day In, Day Out" swings with great accompaniment from Brian Clancy (tenor saxophone) and Chad Willis (trumpet). An upbeat "Where or When" reminds me of the great Nelson Riddle arrangements of the golden age of American music. That style is carried through Lew Spence and Marilyn and Alan Bergman's "Nice 'n' Easy," with a wonderful sax solo by the young Clancy. Elling takes center stage with his own arrangement of "You Are Too Beautiful," running the scales as only he can. His version is more Sarah Vaughan than Sinatra and shows how one master can re-imagine a classic and totally own it.
Introducing vibraphonist Roger Glenn, Elling allows him to shine on a stunning "Moonlight in Vermont" and the set closer, "Around the World," which is turned into a major swing number. Elling and longtime collaborator, pianist Laurence Hobgood, have taken a fresh look at Sinatra's style and updated it to accommodate Elling's considerable talents. The result is another Elling challenge met and exceeded.