Jazz.com’s Song of the Day: Say It (Over & Over Again)

Kurt Elling: Say It (Over & Over Again)Rating: 95/100

Originally produced as a concert for the Monterey Jazz Festival, Kurt Elling’s CD “Dedicated To You” celebrates John Coltrane’s Ballads and the classic John Coltrane And Johnny Hartman. In his poem “A Poetic Jazz Memory” which he recites over “It’s Easy To Remember,” Elling notes that the Coltrane/Hartman album was made in a few hours using head arrangements. Elling’s tribute is nowhere near that casual, with fully-prepared arrangements by Laurence Hobgood, and what seems to be a very structured performance order, with medleys included in order to present all of the Hartman songs and most of the Coltrane ballads without having to do complete versions of each song.

Elling takes a lot of liberties with the material, including some very surprising note choices on the verse to “Lush Life” and at times, it feels like the individual expression outweighs the memory of the original understated LPs. But in the middle of the program appears this glorious version of “Say It (Over and Over Again)” which brings back the feeling of the original albums without copying the original’s style or arrangement.

The opening features the ETHEL string quartet in a quiet fughetta based on the melody. Elling comes in very softly, singing the lyric with great sensitivity and tenderness. Ernie Watts enters at the bridge with a fluttery obbligato and after the first chorus, he returns for a magnificently-constructed solo which starts lyrically and builds to an impressive conclusion alluding to “Parker’s Mood” along the way (Ernie is a severely under-appreciated talent; let’s hope that this CD brings him more of the recognition he deserves). When Elling returns, he and the band take advantage of the raised intensity with a heavily-syncopated bridge, then they slowly release the tension with an extended version of the final eight bars.