Important Male Voices: Kurt Elling: The Questions, Allan Harris: The Genius of Eddie Jefferson

In this day of most singers relying on The Great American Songbook, two singers take on a path less traveled, and that makes all the difference.
One of today’s important voices, Kurt Elling has come a long way to his free-flying improvisations. The one time divinity school student asks metaphysical questions in the form of songs, and while he doesn’t provide any answers, at least he gets the conversation started on this clever idea.

His rich and calm voice is teamed with Stu Mindeman-Joey Calderazzo/p-key, John McLean/g, Clark Sommers/b, Jeff “Tain” Watts/dr and guests Branford Marsalis/ss-ts and Marquis Hill/tp-fh. His unaccompanied intro to “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” is riveting and dramatic, with Marsalis’ soprano adding extra veracity, while the two get intimate on a reflective “I Have Dreamed.” Elling is dreamy along with Hill’s watercolors on “Endless Lawns” while the team does a hip cadence with Hill’s fluffy flugelhorn and Calderazzo’s piano as Elling is like a tour guide on “Lonely Town.” His nuance is rich and thoughtful on “Washing of the Water” and with some guitar effects he adds a new dimension to “Skylark.” Food for thought, maybe some eternal answers next time?

Honey toned Allan Harris keeps it hip and bopping on this tribute to vocalese master Eddie Jefferson. He even brings in one of Jefferson’s sidemen, alto madman Richie Cole, along with a hip team of Eric Reed/p, Willie Jones III/dr, George De Lancey/b and Ralph Moore/ts.

With the hip horns, he digs in dip on a snappy “Sister Sadie” and bounces to the Manteca riff on “Filthy McNasty.” He digs deep like a ditch digger on a nimble “So What?” and is as relaxed as Pres himself on “Lester’s Trip to the Moon.” A warm and calm “Body and Soul” shows Harris’ ability to keep the blood pressure down, while he adds a soulful lilt to the popular “Jeannine.” When’s this guy hitting So Cal?