Renewal and Redemption
Everyone deserves a fresh start. What’s more, everyone gets a fresh start, every day: It’s called “sunrise.â€ That sounds like a bad joke, but it’s true. Every day is a clean slate, if we just commit ourselves to that concept. This theme of renewal and redemption drives Nightmoves, Kurt Elling’s first disc in four years.
Elling is all about new beginnings nowadays; he’s taken on new management, and he’s making his Concord debut after a ten-year relationship with Blue Note. Some things, fortunately, have not changed: he’s still backed by the ever-sharp Laurence Hobgood Trio–though they are augmented by notable guest artists like Christian McBride, Bob Mintzer and Howard Levy. Also, Elling is still one of the great jazz interpreters of this generation; he’s not afraid to take risks in order to make his vision live.
Who else would think of blending Keith Jarrett with Frank Sinatra, or Irving Berlin with Antonio Carlos Jobim? Elling makes both pairs without a qualm. “Leaving Again/In the Wee Small Hoursâ€ is a nuanced picture of the everyday “heel.â€ Through Elling’s lyric to an untitled Jarrett improvisation, we see a man sneaking out on a lover, unable to maintain any connection beyond the physical; “In the Wee Small Hoursâ€ finds the man in his own bed, alone, pining for the one that got away. It takes all the fun out of “hooking up,â€ but that’s the point. Watching the woman you love with someone else is a universal downer, and Elling flawlessly links Berlin’s pleading “Change Partnersâ€ with the wistful Jobim bossa “If You Never Come to Meâ€ to give us two versions of the same hell.
Elling examines love–both lost and found–through the eyes of some fascinating sources. He teams up with Hobgood trio bassist Rob Amster on an improvised vocalese of the Theodore Roethke poem “The Waking,â€ and then follows it with an expansion on “The Sleepers,â€ part of Fred Hersch’s take on Walt Whitman’s epic poem Leaves of Grass. Randy Bachman wrote “Undunâ€ about a girl who went into a coma after dropping acid; in Elling’s hands, the girl is at the tail end of a bad relationship choice, lost without the love she thought was true.
With moving versions of “Body and Soulâ€ (appearing here as “A New Body and Soul,â€ inspired by Dexter Gordon’s 1976 treatment) and Ellington’s “I Like the Sunrise,â€ you can’t help but see Elling as the descendant of Sinatra and Bennett. But the opening title track comes from Michael Franks, a contemporary master who was always good for a smart lyric and a vocal you couldn’t pin down. That sums up Kurt Elling pretty well, too.
Elling calls Nightmoves “a soundtrack,â€ but he won’t say what it’s really about. I can tell you it’s not a “date movie,â€ though it just might send you out of the theatre smiling and–above all–hopeful.