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Jazz - Released June 8, 2015 | Concord Jazz

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Both a virtuoso and a journeyman, a traditionalist and a chance taker, singer Kurt Elling has built a career upon defying expectations while also celebrating the standards of the vocal jazz tradition. An adept vocalist with an eloquent set of skills that find him moving easily between literate, kinetic vocalese, swinging standards, and lyrical balladry, Elling draws you deep into each song. With his 11th studio album and fifth for Concord, 2015's Passion World, Elling maximizes this eclectic dynamism with a well-curated series of songs that find him exploring compositions and styles from around the globe. The album finds him working with producers Chris Dunn and Bryan Farina as well as longtime collaborators keyboardist Gary Versace, guitarist John McLean, bassist Clark Sommers, and drummer Kendrick Scott. This touring ensemble has backed Elling worldwide, and clearly shares his enthusiasm for interpreting such stylistically disparate material. Also adding to the album's cornucopia of sounds is a handful of like-minded guests including trumpeter Arturo Sandoval on the elegiac Cuban ballad "Bonita Cuba" and tenor saxophonist Tommy Smith and the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra on the lyrical traditional Celtic number "Loch Tay Boat Song." Similarly, German trumpeter Till Brönner adds his soft, melodic trumpet to Richard Galliano's "Billie," reworked here as "The Tangled Road," and featuring lyrics by Elling. Also engaging is Elling's duet with vocalist Sara Gazarek on Brazilian singer/songwriter Dorival Caymmi's buoyant 1944 bossa nova classic "Você Já Foi à Bahia?" And it's not just his jazz chops on display here. Elling delivers an impeccable orchestral-backed rendition of Johannes Brahms' elegiac "Nicht Wandle, Mein Licht (Liebeslieder Walzer Op. 52, No. 17)," and even reworks U2's anthemic "Where the Streets Have No Name" with an uplifting folk and soul-jazz vibe. Ultimately, that all of Passion World works so beautifully, with each song flowing into the next, is yet another reason why Elling remains one of the premier jazz vocalists in the world. © Matt Collar /TiVo
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Vocal Jazz - Released April 3, 2020 | Edition Records

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With Secrets Are the Best Stories, Kurt Elling has made an almost-flawless record. In 2015, with Passion World the Chicago singer revisited the lied Nicht Wandle, Mein Licht by Brahms; but also numbers by U2, Pat Metheny, and Björk - not forgetting La Vie en rose and even a poem by James Joyce! Three years later, The Questions, tackles Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Peter Gabriel, Leonard Bernstein, Johnny Mercer and a few others: in particular their social and political themes. This time around, his artistic ambition as well as his political engagement step up a notch in this album conceived with pianist Danilo Pérez around the questions of human rights, immigration and climate change. At the age of 52, Elling wrote powerful lyrics for music by Wayne Shorter, Jaco Pastorius, Vince Mendoza and Pérez himself. Along with his own tales, he has also adapted works by contemporary poets Franz Wright and Robert Bly, nineteenth-century abolitionist poetess Frances E. W. Harper and Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison. "How shall we survive? Danilo and I share many of the same concerns and anxieties about where the world is today. Secrets Are The Best Stories is our cri de coeur.” To help them amplify this musical outcry, Elling and Pérez have assembled bassist Clark Sommers, drummer Johnathan Blake and percussionist Rogerio Boccato. Some famous guests, such as alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón, guitarist Chico Pinheiro and percussionist Román Díaz, add a sober score, an impeccable setting for the voice and lyrics of Kurt Elling, who has authored a really strong work. © Max Dembo / Qobuz
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Vocal Jazz - Released March 23, 2018 | Okeh - Sony Masterworks

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Continuing the fruitful creative partnership that began with 2016's Upward Spiral, vocalist Kurt Elling once again pairs with saxophonist Branford Marsalis for the lyrical, ruminative 2018 effort The Questions. Joining them are pianist Joey Calderazzo, drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts, guitarist John McLean, pianist Stu Mindeman, bassist Clark Sommers, and trumpeter Marquis Hill. As the title implies, the album finds Elling in deeply contemplative mood, delving into songs rife with existential themes of human suffering, and the hope for a better world. While that may sound like a serious-minded slog, it never gets bogged down. Rather, this is a well-curated set of songs, done in Elling's usual sophisticated, literate, and uplifting style. Instead of playing standards here (though the album ends on an inspired reading of Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer's "Skylark"), Elling and Marsalis (who also produced) move toward songs that are further afield of the jazz tradition. There is a poetic quality to many of the song choices that reflect Elling's longstanding love of spoken word, beginning with his soulful opening rendition of Bob Dylan's "A Hard Rain's-a-Gonna Fall." Moving from a spare, soulful a cappella intro to a wave-like full-band arrangement, the song works to set the album's overall tone of thoughtful, existential questioning. Similarly engaging are his takes on Paul Simon's "American Song" and his subdued, gospel-inflected version of Peter Gabriel's "Washing of the Water." As with many of his past albums, he also adds his own literary spin to several pieces, including taking Carla Bley's sweetly attenuated piece "Lawns" and combining it with his own lyrics, and a poem by writer Sara Teasdale, turning it into "Endless Lawns." Similarly, he adds lyrics to Jaco Pastorius' instrumental "Three Views of a Secret," drawing inspiration from the work of 13th Century poet Rumi and transforming the song into his own "A Secret in Three Views." Musically, while the core of The Questions sounds like an acoustic jazz album, the overall sound is much more of a hybrid, weaving in elements of contemporary folk, classical, Latin, and even new age. That said, there are certainly stellar bits of improvisation, including a warm, harmonic flügelhorn solo from Hill on "Lonely Town," and a spiraling soprano sax section from Marsalis on "I Have Dreamed." Ultimately, all of this works to frame Elling's textured, highly resonant vocals and heartfelt message. As he sings on "Skylark," "Haven't you heard the music in the night? Beautiful music." © Matt Collar /TiVo
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Vocal Jazz - Released January 1, 1997 | Blue Note Records

This is one of the most interesting jazz vocal sets to be released in 1997. Kurt Elling covers a wide range of music, continually taking chances and coming up with fresh approaches. He is assisted by his longtime pianist Laurence Hopgood, different bassists and drummers, and on various tracks trumpeter Orbert Davis and the tenors of Edward Petersen and Eddie Johnson. Among the more memorable selections are Elling's vocalese version of Dexter Gordon's solo on the lengthy "Tanya Jean," and his spontaneous storytelling on "It's Just a Thing" (a classic of its kind), some wild scatting on "Gingerbread Boy," the fairly free improvising of "Endless," and his mostly straightforward renditions of "Nature Boy," "April In Paris" and "Prelude to a Kiss." Cassandra Wilson drops by for "Time of the Season," but does not make much of an impression. This rewarding and continually intriguing set is particularly recommended to listeners who feel that jazz singing has not progressed much beyond bop. © Scott Yanow /TiVo
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Pop - Released February 8, 2011 | Concord Jazz

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Since the 1990s, Kurt Elling has proved a most innovative jazz singer. His recordings -- particularly The Messenger, Man in the Air, and Nightmoves -- also reveal him to be a modern jazz visionary. On The Gate, Elling presents nine songs gathered from rock, pop, soul, and jazz. Produced by Don Was, Elling is accompanied by longtime pianist Laurence Hobgood, saxophonist Bob Mintzer, guitarist John McLean, bassist John Pattitucci, alternating drummers Terreon Gulley and Kobie Watkins, and percussionist Lenny Castro. The material here is evocative of Elling's all encompassing view of jazz as an ever-innovative popular music. It opens with a subtle, deeply emotive and poetic reading of King Crimson's "Matte Kudasai." Commencing with only Patitucci's upright bass before Gulley and Hobgood enter from the edges, Elling croons languidly at the upper reaches of his range. McLean's guitar is used economically and delicately until his solo. Joe Jackson's "Steppin' Out" extends beyond the realm of the author's Cole Porter-influenced pop, transforming it into a warm, swinging, cool jazz number. The sparsity of Hobgood's phrasing underscoring Elling's voice shows remarkable restraint; Castro's hand percussion counters Watkins' hi-hat groove and makes it pop. Herbie Hancock's "Come Running to Me" changes shape entirely, from its funky fretless bass and vocoder roots comes a bona fide soul-jazz midtempo ballad. Stevie Wonder's "Golden Lady" backs off the funk; but the exacting interplay between Hobgood and Gulley keeps the soul intact; Elling reinvents it as an acoustic jazz ballad. The Beatles' "Norwegian Wood" subtly restructures the tune's rhythmic accents without forsaking a note of its melody. Earth, Wind & Fire's "After the Love Has Gone" is transformed into a limpid, nearly ethereal tone poem. The reading of Miles Davis' "Blue in Green" is based on Al Jarreau's arrangement, but it opens up more: space and texture grant his voice room to explore the melody's interior. "Samurai Cowboy," an original co-written with Marc Johnson, features Elling's multi-tracked vocals in a chanted chorus, underscoring a syncopated blues, highlighted by Mintzer's gritty fills. "Nighttown, Lady Bright" closes it as poetic, post-beat improvisation with Elling reciting as well as singing. The Gate presents Elling at the top of his game; it is a song cycle that is mesmerizing and mysterious as it is provocative and compelling. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 2012 | Concord Jazz

Forward-thinking jazz vocalist Kurt Elling follows up his progressive 2011 covers album The Gate with his equally ambitious 2012 release, 1619 Broadway: The Brill Building Project. Where on his last outing, Elling drew upon an array of musical genres and time periods for his song choices, this time he focuses on the fertile pop songwriting Mecca that was the Brill Building in the '50s and '60s. The creative epicenter for much of the pop music industry on the East Coast, the Brill Building was the work place for a bevy of legendary artists and songwriters including Carole King, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, and many others. On The Brill Building Project, Elling picks from a cross-section of these songwriters, running the gamut from such obvious standards as the Sammy Cahn/James Van Heusen-Frank Sinatra vehicle "Come Fly with Me," to more idiosyncratic pop/rock choices like Elling's conceptually arty doo wop-meets-beatnik comedy sketch take on the Coasters' “Shoppin’ for Clothes.” Generally speaking, most of the songs here are reworked by Elling and his band into various contemporary jazz styles that allow Elling plenty of room for his expansive, vocalese-influenced singing style. He even adds his own dark, socio-satirical point of view to the Monkee's already dark Gerry Goffin and Carole King-penned “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” which recalls the ‘70s jazz-rock of Steely Dan. A few tracks, such as Duke Ellington's swinging "Tutti for Cootie" and the bluesy 1968 Lou Rawls number "I'm Satisfied," are done in a more straight-ahead, post-bop jazz style. Others cuts, like the lead-off "On Broadway" and Sam Cooke's "You Send Me," are reimagined as languid, R&B-infused arrangements. In fact, with his supple, velvet-lined voice, it is perhaps not surprising that it is the more introspective moments like Elling's afterglow ballad version of the Al Dublin/Harry Warren standard “I Only Have Eyes for You” and his atmospheric reworking of Carole King's, “So Far Away” that really stick with you. Ultimately, though, it is just this diverse stylistic quality, both in the source material and Elling's arrangements, that make The Brill Building Project one of his most interesting albums. © Matt Collar /TiVo
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Jazz - Released December 7, 2018 | MRI

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Jazz - Released June 10, 2016 | Okeh

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Vocal Jazz - Released January 1, 2001 | Blue Note Records

Who but Kurt Elling would open a ballads album by singing a Charlie Haden bass solo? It's a typically ambitious move, transforming "Moonlight Serenade," Glenn Miller's perennial slow-dance favorite, into a hip, smoky ode. Elling is a distinctive vocalist, endowed with true musicianship: Listen as he sticks to his band like glue on the very slow tempo of "Lil' Darlin'." That's not easy. Laurence Hobgood, Elling's longtime musical partner, plays outstanding piano throughout and crafts subtle horn arrangements on several tracks. Bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Peter Erskine illuminate the session as well. The horn section -- trumpeter Clay Jenkins, alto saxophonist Jeff Clayton, and tenor saxophonist Bob Sheppard -- is heard to greatest effect on the closing "While You Are Mine" and the beginning of "Detour Ahead." Some of the songs, like Stephen Sondheim's "Not While I'm Around" (from Sweeney Todd), come out sounding a bit bland. But among the best is "Orange Blossoms in Summertime," based on a Curtis Lundy tune, during which Elling executes a harmonized ensemble passage with the horns and holds a climactic long note at the end. Other highlights include the bouncy 6/8 take on "Easy Living" and the drum-and-vocal opening of "I'm Through With Love." While Flirting With Twilight lacks the breadth of a record like The Messenger, it's still a worthy statement from Elling, who shows yet again that vocal jazz can be more than just easy listening. (The U.S. release contains a hidden track, the old Marlene Dietrich vehicle "Je Tire Ma Révérence," which Elling sings in French, backed only by Marc Johnson.) © David R. Adler /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 2007 | Concord Records

When Kurt Elling issued Man in the Air on the Blue Note label in 2003, it showcased his expansive, dream-weaving stage persona, though the album was recorded in the studio. Nightmoves arrives in the--hopefully--greener pastures of the Concord kingdom, and has been both directing and hosting festivals and performing like crazy. For a guy who is as busy as he is, there's no doubt he has also been working on expanding his particular gift with discipline and breathtaking adventure. For starters, there is a wider array of musicians on Nightmoves. Along with longtime pianist Laurence Hobgood (an underrated and underappreciated artist of high order), players like Bob Mintzer, Christian McBride, Rob Mounsey, Willie Jones III, the Escher String Quartet, Rob Amster, Guilherme Monteiro, and Grégoire Maret are here, assisting in this ambitious set of tunes in all manner of configurations, from duet to septet. The title cut, written by Michael Franks, opens the set, with Mintzer on tenor and a pair of pianists in Hobgood on acoustic and arranger Rob Mounsey on electric, with Jones and McBride serving as the rhythm section guides. Elling keeps all the gorgeous mystery of the original and deepens it as he more assertively states the lyrics. He's got soul, blues, and the grain of the jazzman in his vocal. Hobgood underscores every line while Mounsey adds depth and dimension to the tune atmospherically, and Mintzer's solo is brief but full of the deep blues. There is a weave at work here that Elling follows in Betty Carter's "Tight." And it is. The notion of song gets stretched to the point of breakage here, and rhythmic interplay happens between Elling and the band. While keeping Carter's tune's integrity, he also pushes the lines to slip into the circular beat provided by Jones. McBride's arrangement is a swinging hard bop delight. The sense of freedom in Carter's original is captured in Elling's solo. There is a gorgeous nocturnal smoke-and-fog medley of Irving Berlin's "Change Partners" and Antonio Carlos Jobim's "If You Never Come to Me." Howard Levy adds some painterly harmonica to the tune's frame, and the band -- courtesy of Hobgood's subtle and moving arrangement -- plays to Elling's strength. The sense of longing and heartache is evident from outside the lyric; it comes from the pit of the belly and speaks its need before Monteiro's acoustic guitar introduces the Jobim song. Elling slips right into that rhythmic change, extending the story of the original, speaking under the gentle breeze and night sky. There is another medley here as well: Keith Jarrett's "Leaving Again" woven into the Mann and Hilliard tune (and Frank Sinatra classic) "In the Wee Small Hours." Elling extrapolated -- via transcription most likely -- Jarrett's original improvisation (and his extra lines in the latter tune) and wrote a vocal and lyrics for it. The performance is full of surprise and delight. Listeners will have to discover that one for themselves. One of the greatest surprises here is in Elling's reading of Randy Bachman's (of Bachman-Turner Overdrive and the Guess Who, the latter band having recorded the original) pop hit "Undun" (better known as "She's Come Undun"). The tune is transformed with help from Mounsey's arrangement. It always had a jazz backdrop, and Elling and his pals pull it over the line. The man croons and startles with the raw emotion in his voice, as Hobgood's fills offer support for the sense of drama in Elling's voice. Mintzer enters and plays between the lines and through them. Elling just seems to climb with the intensity of the band and goes over the top. Elling's composition of a song to Theodore Roethke's poem is a deeply moving duet between his voice and Amster's bass. His full range is at work here, but the feel is effortless, spiritual, dreamy, shimmering. This track offers the complete evidence of this vocalist's true gift. The set ends with a reading of Duke Ellington's "I Like the Sunrise." Backed by a trio of Hobgood, Amster, and Jones, the reverence the singer feels for the tune is evident from the moment he opens his mouth. This is a gospel song in Elling's voice, with a vocalese performance that is as moving and on the money as anyone has ever delivered. The lyric is adapted from Rumi, and Ellington's melody is in perfect balance with the lyric and rhythm. It's simply inspiring. After Man in the Air it was difficult to imagine Elling expanding further on his spirit of song. But on Nightmoves, he has not only met but exceeded all expectations. This CD was nominated for a Grammy award in 2007 for Best Jazz Vocal Album. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Vocal Jazz - Released March 23, 2018 | Okeh - Sony Masterworks

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It doesn’t look like it, but isn’t Kurt Elling the best jazz singer of his generation? The idea of any competition, or any ranking, is obviously ludicrous, not to say stupid, but it is evident that album after album, the singer from Chicago pursues a journey that is almost flawless. In 2015, with Passion World, Elling revisited Nicht Wandle, Mein Licht taken from Brahms‘ Liebeslieder, but also pieces penned by U2, Pat Metheny, Björk, not forgetting La Vie en rose and even a poem by James Joyce! For this eleventh album that is as eclectic as possible, he abandoned his acrobatics, that only he knows the secrets of, for a more languorous and sensual style, a singing that he delivered with a lot of sophistication.His range of expression, as well as the impressive accuracy of his enunciation, is once again on the menu of a feast of covers that is just as perfect. With The Questions, Kurt Elling tackles this time Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Peter Gabriel, Jaco Pastorius, Leonard Bernstein, Carla Bley, Johnny Mercer and a few others. Produced by saxophonist Branford Marsalis, this twelfth opus gathers pianist Joey Calderazzo, drummer Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts, guitarist John McLean, organ player Stu Mindeman, trumpet player Marquis Hill and bass player Clark Sommers. It’s a fine selection of virtuosos in the service of a singer that manages to impose his style and the roundness of his voice, even on classics that have been covered by everyone on earth like Skylark. It is classy, and already a classic. © Max Dembo/Qobuz
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1998 | Blue Note Records

After taking the jazz vocal scene by storm, Kurt Elling got in a bit over his head, gaining as many critical kudos as catcalls. On his third disc, he finds a happy medium between romantic rumination and vocal experimentation. The highlight of the disc is "Freddie's Yen for Jen," a stellar jazz experience that comes pretty damn close to committing the pure emotion of love to tape. © Tim Sheridan /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 2003 | Blue Note Records

Kurt Elling has finally delivered on the potential promised on his 1997 album The Messenger. It is true that Elling has been terrifically consistent in his offerings with very inspired performances-- even if the material and its execution were not nearly as adventurous as that storied earlier recording. But Man in the Air is the extension of all the wandering risk of The Messenger. Here Elling and his regular band -- pianist Laurence Hobgood, bassist Rob Amster, and drummer Frank Parker Jr. -- are joined by current vibe king Stefon Harris and Jim Gailloreto on soprano saxophone. The program is a regal selection of compositions by Pat Metheny ("Minuano"), John Coltrane ("Resolution"), Bob Mintzer ("All Is Quiet"), Josef Zawinul ("Time to Say Goodbye"), Herbie Hancock ("A Secret I"), and others, including his bandmates, with lyrics added by Elling. While this may on initial impression seem shocking or even sacrilegious, the result is anything but. In fact, Elling is one one of the few mainstream jazz artists out there currently trying to extend the reach of this music, and to expand it as an artform in an age when reactionary neo-traditionalism is killing it, not only in terms of evolution but in the marketplace, too. From the sultry feel of "In the Winelight," with Hobgood's sweet, nocturnal electric piano and Elling's phrasing, seductive without sentiment, to Coltrane's "Resolution," with its wildly syncopated delivery and lyrics that introduce the cosmic to its underside and reconciles all major religious figures to the planet Earth as well as the cosmos, it is obvious that Elling's accomplishment is in making the composer accessible to the listener in a new way. Elling's grasp of Trane's metaphysics and his modalism is rapturous, knotty, and it charges for the boundaries. Consider, however, that Elling and his crew are able to translate Zawinul's gorgeous ballad into a pastoral and elegiac scene of aural cinemarife with lush nuances and metonymic devices. The title track by Hobgood and Elling is among the most beautiful things on the recording. Here are two musicians who understand one another on every subtle level. Hobgood is a criminally under-recognized pianist. His sense of harmonic architecture and melodic invention are among the most innovative of the current grown-up generation of jazz players, and his allowance for space and nuance acts as a perfect foil for Elling's rigorous restructuring of intervals and cadences. This mid-tempo and euphoric exercise in jazz poesy is remarkable for its lyrical invention and shimmering choruses. Most importantly, Man in the Air is not a "fusion" record. It is a jazz record that comes from the heart of its great vocal tradition and extends it without running over it or tossing it aside in favor of the empty postmodern construct of "the new." What has always been lasting about the introduction of new directions in jazz is how it uses the tradition in order to make it deeper and wider. Man in the Air certainly does so with verve, grace, adventure, and consummate skill. This is Elling's finest moment thus far and is easily a candidate for one of the finest albums of 2003. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1995 | Blue Note Records

For his debut recording, Chicago vocalist Elling pushes the envelope, challenging listeners and his musicians with beat poetry, ranting, and his Mark Murphy-ish singing. There's quite a bit of dramatist/actor in Elling, although the romantic in him is also pretty prevalent. Acting much like a tenor saxophonist, Elling can wail and shout, expound on social themes, and scat like a demon. Help from the extraordinary pianist Laurence Hobgood, bassists Eric Hochberg and Rob Amster, and drummer Paul Wertico inspires Elling to even higher plateaus, while tenor saxophone foils Ed Peterson and Von Freeman appear separately on three of the 13 tracks. Elling writes a ton of lyrics. His take on Wayne Shorter's "Dolores" is "Dolores Dream," on which the singer speaks of Chi-Town in terms both favorable (hanging out at the Green Mill jazz club) and not so favorable ("fat frying, spluttering rank Chicago smeltering along, smothered in hot wooly sweat"), with a maniacal swing following his a cappella intro. His ramrod scatting is amazing both on this piece and on an exploratory take of Herbie Hancock's "Hurricane." A "So What"-type modality informs "(Hide The) Salome," with vicious scatting and Freeman's tenor in complete, frustrated agreement. Elling's poetic recitation of "Married Blues" and the avant beat style of "Now It Is Time" show his reverence for Rexroth and Rilke, respectively. As far as pure singing goes, "All the Sad Young Men" is beautifully rendered -- similar to Murphy, but not as overtly pronounced. "Close Your Eyes" opens with a tender piano intro, flowing into bass/vocal wistfulness and a midtempo romp. Elling extrapolates on the original lyric and scats feverishly on the bridge. He is at his most sexual on the slinky bossa "Never Say Goodbye" and the ballad "Storyteller Experiencing Total Confusion," with Peterson's sax shyly filling in cracks of fear and disillusionment. There's clearly more in store for Elling as he matures, but this is as auspicious a vocal jazz debut as the world has heard. © Michael G. Nastos /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 2009 | Concord Jazz

In a single three-hour session in March 1963, John Coltrane and the singer Johnny Hartman convened in a studio (along with the other members of Coltrane's legendary quintet) and recorded an album's worth of ballads that became one of the most beloved jazz vocal albums of all-time, the simply titled John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman. Both of those artists are long gone but their one-off collaboration inspired singer Kurt Elling to pay tribute in a tour that has now found its way to this live album, record at the Allen Room in Lincoln Center in early 2009. Accompanied by the Laurence Hobgood Trio (Hobgood, piano and co-production, with Elling; Clark Sommers, bass; Ulysses Owens, drums), the tenor saxophonist Ernie Watts guesting on several tracks, and the Ethel string quartet, Elling performs his own takes on the six songs that comprised the original Coltrane-Hartman album, plus several others in a similar vein, most drawn from the 1962 Coltrane album Ballads (which did not include Hartman). Elling possesses one of the warmest, most romantic voices in jazz-pop today, and he is ideally suited for these standards, songs such as Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life," Sammy Cahn's "Dedicated to You," and Jimmy Van Heusen's "Nancy with the Laughing Face." All of these tunes have, of course, been interpreted by probably hundreds of other singers, but Elling's grace, command, and nuanced phrasing put him, with his expressive baritone and obvious affection for this material, well into the upper echelon. The musicians are particularly sympathetic, knowing when to use restraint and when to step out a bit, and the lushness provided by the strings juxtaposes perfectly with Watts' meaty tenor work. What makes the tribute that much more worthy is that Elling and crew (including Watts) don't attempt to re-create the Coltrane-Hartman session so much as channel its essence. "Dedicated to You" is not an echo, which would be a pointless exercise, but a beautifully realized work in its own right. © Jeff Tamarkin /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1999 | Blue Note Records

Fans of Kurt Elling have long known that his recordings, as clever and well-orchestrated as they might be, don't quite match up to the power and charm of his live performances. Years of holding court at the Green Mill and other Chicago clubs are what really have brought Elling his most devoted followers, so it is exciting to see that Blue Note's new Elling album is a document of three special nights spent recording at the legendary Uptown jazz club. And indeed, with a few small exceptions, the album shows off Elling at his best -- loose, uninhibited, creative, and solid. His standard backing trio has never been tighter and more balanced, and the performance of pianist (and Elling collaborator) Lawrence Hobgood really shines. Three saxophonists -- Von Freeman, Ed Petersen and Eddie Johnson -- manage to blend together in perfectly balanced harmonies, as well as command attention in solos of their own. Chicago's own Khalil El'Zabar makes a fine appearance, and a rare contribution by legendary jazz vocalist Jon Hendricks shows that he can still steal a show. The enthusiasm of the highly appreciative audience is captured, as well as more than a little evidence of the noise in the surrounding bar. The three nights of recording produced some fine versions of new and classic songs, including "Esperanto," Elling's pairing of the poetry of Pablo Neruda with the music of Vince Mendoza's jazz classic, "Esperança"; and "The Rent Party," which recalls Elling's jazz-poet days at the beginning of his career. © Stacia Proefrock /TiVo
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Vocal Music (Secular and Sacred) - Released January 24, 2020 | Edition Records

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Jazz - Released February 16, 2018 | Okeh - Sony Masterworks

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Vocal Music (Secular and Sacred) - Released February 28, 2020 | Edition Records

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Jazz - Released May 4, 2015 | Concord Jazz