Listening Post: Kurt Elling Meets the Branford Marsalis Quartet

Not merely a great meeting of a jazz vocalist and instrumentalist but a full and marvelous return to form for two huge jazz figures who've done some fruitless wandering of late. It was, I suppose, an interesting idea for Branford Marsalis to record an unaccompanied record in a church with all the acoustic vagaries that result. It no doubt seemed to be a wonderful idea too for the great male jazz singer Kurt Elling to nod to his large international audience by performing an entire disc of obscure music from other cultures. Let's not use the woefully condescending word “pretension” here; let's just say that neither idea quite suited the extraordinary talents involved.
This, though, is a truly great meeting of jazz vocalist and jazz instrumental soloist. It's almost right up there with Coltrane and Johnny Hartman and the record in which Cannonball Adderly presented Nancy Wilson to the jazz world. The album of Marsalis' Quartet with Elling as guest was Marsalis' idea, and it's close to a total success.

You know how good this record will be right away with a roaring version of “There's a Boat That's Leaving Soon For New York.” Sting's “Practical Arrangement” is oddly moving and entirely in keeping with Marsalis' appearances with the composer. It was Elling's idea to do their ghostly version of “Blue Velvet” and to do “I'm a Fool to Want You” as a tenor/vocal duet. In other words, Elling took the date so seriously, his unconventional ideas were superb. I'm not in love with Mark Murphy's lyrics to Sonny Rollins' tune “Doxy,” but no matter what this is a very special record. Marsalis' quartet is filled out, as always, by pianist Joey Calderazzo (sublime on “Practical Arrangement”), bassist Eric Revis and drummer Justin Faulkner.

Four stars (out of four): ★ ★ ★ ★