The future of jazz singing? You decide.
With pretty much the whole profession of jazz singing suffering today, it is great an anomaly like Kurt Elling can ply his trade and not only make a career out of it, but excel at it and possibly become the catalyst for bringing the art back. Always a vocalist who has played it hipper than hip, what could be nothing more than shtick in the hands of a lesser singer turns into something with substance and feeling when Elling turns his talent to it. A true listener can sense when something comes from an artist’s heart as opposed to a marketing scheme and Elling has always let his heart lead his decisions. And it shows on every record he makes.
After releasing a string of wonderfully idiosyncratic albums for Blue Note, Elling jumps to Concord for this release. The title song, written by Michael Franks (which opens the album) featuring Elling backed by Bob Mintzer on tenor sax and longtime pianist Laurence Hobgood and Rob Mounsey on keyboards, starts the album off with a palpable electricity. Backed by a rhythm section consisting of Willie Jones III and Christian McBride, Elling and his fellow musicians take the song and make it their own, bettering and deepening the original. The next song, Betty Carter’s “Tight,” shows Elling in an adventurous mood as he molds the song into something definitely his own. Another fave cut of mine from this CD is a version of Randy Bachman’s (of The Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive fame) “She’s Come Undun.â€ Always a song with more than a hint of jazz in it, Elling takes it all the way into the jazz realm and adds plenty of depth to the songs as he brings it there. While it has always been common for jazz artists to take a pop song and extrapolate it into another vision, a lot of times it comes off as gimmicky and something done just to sell an album. Elling, when he does it, always takes the song somewhere else while bringing out another side of the composition. In other words, Elling always make the proper choice to serve the song instead of using the song to show off a bunch of vocalese.
Anyone interested in jazz vocals will love this album. Fans of early Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett will find a lot to like on this CD as he, like those artists, is simply a master at the art of jazz singing. It is truly a lost art and just because you see mainstream stars like Rod Stewart trying to enter the world of the Bennetts and Jolsons, don’t think for one minute Stewart and his ilk know what they’re doing. Elling, on the other hand, knows full well what he is doing with the art form and has the tools to not only carry on the tradition but embellish it with ingenuity and soul.