Kurt Elling's latest release is a vocal, jazz and songwriting delight, celebrating as it does the songcraft that took place at the album title's famous address. I've been a firm fan of Elling ever since hearing his beautiful version of Carl Lundy's 'Orange Blossoms in Summertime' from Kurt's 2001 album 'Flirting With Twilight', an instrumental original for which Elling composed lyrics.
'1619 Broadway: Brill Building Project' begins with an apt and upbeat 'On Broadway', prefaced with a sequence of verbal rejections where Kurt, as everymusician, tries to hawk his songs - it's an ironic narrative preamble before launching into this classic selection. Both this opener and 'Come Fly With Me' present familiar jazz standards but with Elling's own stamp of crisp and rhythmically taut deliveries, always tonally perfect. It's the arrangements too, with a sassy jazz guitar riff on that first song and some great percussion over the funky bass beat. 'CFWM' has to dogfight with Sinatra's vapour trail, and I think again that mix of Elling's own perfect timings and the band arrangements - here some harmonising horn interjections - establishes its own distinct flight-path. Long-time collaborator/arranger Laurence Hobgood provides signature orchestration and a piano solo.
There is a great version of Sam Cook's 'You Send Me' which again has a funky rhythm where a staccato opening guitar platforms Elling's emotive voice that is then accompanied by some silky smooth harmonising. When near the end Elling swoons to his falsetto with those echoing harmonies, it is truly gorgeous.
Elling takes the 1934 Warren/Dubin 'I Only Have Eyes For You', made syrupy sweet by Art Garfunkel in 1975, and slows it down from that engrained version to a pace and slightly syncopated rhythm that gives emotional credence to the romantic ruminations, holding out a deep resonating note on those two closing key words: 'for you'. That ruminating pace is picked up and swung around on next 'I'm Satisfied' with some sweet sax provided by Ernie Watts. A short but rousing rendition.
Two other stand-out numbers for me are again familiar but re-worked here to wonderful effect: the first, Goffin and King's 'Pleasant Valley Sunday', gets a jaunty, vocal distorted outing that highlight's the song's satirical message which The Monkees' much prettier version tends to conceal; the second, Paul Simon's 'An American Tune', is powerfully faithful to its exquisite melody - as so many versions over time are, and have to be - and Elling sings gloriously with a simple piano accompaniment from Hobgood.
The huge appeal of this album has to be this significant song selection and then Kurt Elling's genuinely engaging and fresh interpretations. That's taking as read what an outstanding singer he is.
This is a sensational record and sees Kurt Elling push towards a more contemporary feel with re-workings of songs written during the 60's and 70's as opposed to more typical standards. The opening track "On Broadway" sets the tone with the arrangement commencing with a serious of different voices outlining their objection to putting on jazz gigs. In this example, the "production" element of the arrangement certainly works and Laurence Hopgood's excellent arrangements manage to maintain the high jazz content with street-wise savvy. Throughout the album, the charts are exceptional and whilst the additional of the Scofield-like scuzz from the guitar push the arrangements slightly away from the acoustic numbers on Elling's earlier records, the results definitely merit the change. The combination of the imaginative arrangements and Elling's rich voice always ensure that the records by this singer are on the money and show up the limitations of the numerous Sinatra-wannabes who think that they define what jazz singing is about.
I don't feel that there is a duff track on this album which mixes ballads with more light-hearted numbers such as the amusing "Shopping for clothes" and concludes with a groocing version of the Ellington number "Concerto for Cootie." However, my favourite track is the re-working of The Monkee's "Pleasant Valley Sunday" which re-casts and re-harmonizes the tune into a nightmarish, Stepford Wives depiction complete with samples and the gritty organ and guitar.
"1619 Broadway" is probably the most "produced" album Kurt Elling has made to date but I think it is almost one of his most consistent records. Some of the riskier elements from earlier albums might be toned down a smidgeon yet this is very much an album made by a mature artist at the height of his powers and confident with his ability to put his own stamp on material which had hitherto been the property of other singers. Recommended.
In my opinion this is Kurt Elling's best studio recording since 'Nightmoves' (though there is nothing here as sublime as 'The Waking', a song I play almost daily and never tire of), though it seems to have split his fan base. It's true that a jazz take on a commercial 'pop' tune can sometimes destroy the very element that gave the original song its power - usually melody, since there is rarely much musical complexity - but Elling avoids this here, with the possible exception of 'You Send Me'. 'Come Fly With Me' becomes a quite different song from the one we are familiar with and repays several listenings. 'On Broadway' is magnificent and becomes a really moving examination of the destructive effects of the pursuit of stardom, rather than the usual 'I'll make it somehow' paen to self-motivation. There are none of the irritating vocal 'scat' repetitions that mar his earlier records - the songs are reinterpreted, but they take centre stage rather than Elling's own vocal prowess, and new meanings are uncovered. 'American Tune' is left as Paul Simon first recorded it, and it is beautifully sung, but actually I would have liked a more exploratory take on this. These are superbly sung examinations of many songs, some of which would not ordinarily get a serious look-in in many jazz singer's repertoire, and a different side to the songs frequently emerges. The musicianship is outstanding, as ever, but the great Laurence Hobgood needs special mention as does the fantastic percussion of Kendrick Scott - he really gives a punch to so many tracks. I can see this is not to everyone's taste, but for me it's a knock-out - that great voice is at the service of some - at first sight unlikely - songs, and reveals their sometimes darker, at times very lighthearted, qualities, aided by a fantastic group of musicians. What's not to like?
Saw most of this material live, and bought the music within an hour of leaving the club. Every listen is rewarding - and some of the more difficult listens open up more and more each time. In particular 'Come Fly With Me', in my opinion, is one of the most beautiful, adventurous and exciting re-arrangements of a standard I have ever heard. Layer upon layer of interest. Definitely my favourite album of the last few years.
on 1st listen I wasn't keen, and bought it just for 'you send me'.... after 5-6 later listens, I now love it. took a bit of time, but I now am fully appreciating this man's talents. Quite a few gems on here, and now play it 2-3 times a week it's so good. would buy again, and buy other cds by him