Top positive review
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Magnificent Voice and Interesting Choice of Material.
on 21 March 2011
This album sees Kurt Elling on top form vocally and paired with a name producer from the pop/rock world in Don Was. So this combination sees Elling tackling more popular material, which in other hands might be seen as an attempt at crossing over to a bigger market - but he remains true to his Jazz roots and this music has always been about interpreting the popular music of the day through an improvisor's sensibility.
Elling has a great band here from the top rank of the Jazz world - bass player John Patitucci is a band leader/composer in his own right and sideman in Wayne Shorter's quartet. Bob Mintzer is one of the most experienced around and Elling's regular collaborator Laurence Hobgood, contributes some great piano playing and clever arrangements.
The album starts with an unusual choice of a King Crimson song from one of their most intense periods - but this is a suprisingly gentle ballad - handled with incredible sensitivity. Then we are into more popular material in Joe Jackson's "Steppin' Out" which sounds better for a walking bass line replacing the ostinato of the original. The band go through several key changes and altered chords, while Elling explores depths that were hardly apparent.
We are now into the two aspects of this album which seem at odds - so we have a great improvising band, which pulls tunes apart and toys with them. But also Elling overdubs vocals to create harmonies - like a choir at times - which must have taken a lot of arrangement and thought. This makes for a unique sound which is something I have never heard before and at times, truly amazes!
Elling's voice is so perfect - his pitching and timing seems uncanny - to be able to do this over and over again in overdubs that blend perfectly is a great technical achievement. But it all works and fits in.
Many tracks benefit from this treatment, although Miles' Blue in Green benefits from simplicity and stillness - while the overdubbed vocals take over completely in "Samurai Cowboy" with just Sax adding to the mix. I also love how Norwegian Wood moves effortlessly into a "Fusion" style groove with a rocking guitar solo.
The last track - NightTown, Lady Bright is clearly Elling's "Labour of Love" and tribute to Duke Ellington - but the stand-out track for me was Stevie Wonder's "Golden Lady". Not many vocalists are brave enough to tackle Stevie, but this adds to the original and it's played as a Jazz standard - with great work from the band and Elling supremely confident throughout.
I was really surprised at how good this album is and it has Jazz integrity, intelligent arrangments, great playing and singing as well as things that will astonish and delight - highly recommended!