Certain jazz singers write their own rules

Certain jazz singers write their own rules. They don’t have to color within the lines because their voices allow them to wander the universe fairly freely. Think of Billie Holiday. Jimmy Scott. Dinah Washington. Louis Armstrong. And then there’s Johnny Hartman. His voice is the sound of love. There is no other way to describe it. And the music Hartman made with John Coltrane was so potent it almost needed a permit to be sold.
Kurt Elling, one of the great singers of our time, has zeroed in on the collaborations of Hartman and Coltrane to stunning effect. His voice goes to the place where the heart often hides, and Elling’s strong emotion helps the spirit be smoothed so it can continue on. Because, let’s face it, the best songs hurt the most. While happiness might cruise down the middle of the road, pain careens from side to side, jumping onto the sidewalk and zooming down into the ditch. This singer knows that, and is not afraid to go there and take us with him.

Pianist-arranger Laurence Hobgood is the perfect partner in crime for this music. He allows the songs all the room they need to breathe, but also supports them with adventurous accompaniment. Saxophonist Ernie Watts uses his horn to throw gasoline on the fire, and deserves a special medal for making Dedicated To You an unforgettable experience.

Some of the greatest songwriters of the modern era are represented here on “Autumn Serenade,” “All or Nothing at All,” “Nancy with the Laughing Face” and others, and listening to the sound of these modern masters in concert last January in New York it is hard not to be lost in the spirit. If you let it, time will stop while the soul is flooded with feeling. There is no other choice. Play “Say It (Over and Over Again)” and watch the world rise around you in joyous rapture. Over and over again.