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Kurt Elling - Nightmoves Print E-mail
Sunday, 01 July 2007
format:    16-bit CD
performance:    6
sound:    7
released:    2007
label:    Concord
reviewer:    Scott Yanow

ImageThe leading male jazz singer of the past decade, Kurt Elling is at the head of a small field that includes Mark Murphy (his main influence), Jon Hendricks, Bob Dorough and a variety of veteran blues shouters and young crooners. Elling at 39 has unlimited potential. Unlike other jazz singers who are content to sing old vocalese classics such as “Moody’s Mood For Love” and “Parker’s Mood,” Elling writes new vocalese, composing words to fit the notes improvised and recorded by jazz instrumentalists. In addition, he is quite skilled and witty in improvising words and stories onstage, his scatting is inventive and he puts plenty of feeling into his interpretations of lyrics. He has also incorporated poetry and spoken word into his performances along with often offbeat renditions of jazz standards.

Rarely shy to take chances and stretch himself, Elling performs a variety of intriguing material on Nightmoves. But the emphasis (with a few exceptions) is on fairly straight renditions of love songs, so the thoughtful and relaxed Nightmoves can be considered one of the safest and most accessible of Elling’s recordings.
First the exceptions should be mentioned. The one selection that will certainly be remembered the most is Elling’s vocalese to a lengthy Dexter Gordon tenor sax solo on “Body and Soul” that is simply titled “A New Body and Soul.” Other unusual selections include his straightforward version of Duke Ellington’s neglected “I Like the Sunrise” (set to a melodic solo by veteran tenor player Von Freeman), an adaptation of another Dexter Gordon solo on “Where Are You, My Love?,” and a platform for his scatting and swinging abilities on Betty Carter’s “Tight.”

The main fault to this outing is that nearly all the selections are taken at the same medium-slow tempo, whether it is Michael Franks’ lightweight ballad title cut, Keith Jarrett’s “Leaving Again” (sung in a medley with “In the Wee Small Hours”) or another medley, “Change Partners” and “If You Never Come to Me.” The instrumentation changes from track to track, with regular bandmates pianist Laurence Hopgood and drummer Willie Jones III usually but not always present, and the format ranging from a duet with bassist Rob Amster to a couple of appearances from the Escher String Quartet and guest spots by tenor saxophonist Bob Mintzer, bassist Christian McBride and either Gregoire Maret or Howard Levy on harmonicas. But with the tempos remaining very similar, a certainly sameness and even sleepiness sets in after a few selections.

The release of Nightmoves may increase Kurt Elling’s audience to include some listeners who were perhaps scared off by some of his riskier recordings, but his longtime fans will have to wait if they want to hear him at his most adventurous and innovative.

Having the instrumentation constantly changing is a challenge for any project; nine different settings are heard on the 11 numbers. But the balance is logical, with Elling’s voice always in the forefront, the sound is very clear, and the success or failure of this CD rests entirely on the performances rather than the sound quality, which is how it should be.

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