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Kurt Elling: The Gate

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Kurt Elling
The Gate
Concord Music Group
2011

It's amazing how small age differences can impact on the music that resonates in our youth—experiencing it after the fact being so different than living in its time. For 43 year-old vocalist Kurt Elling
Kurt Elling
Kurt Elling
b.1967
vocalist
, the music that reached his young, impressionable ears came from sources as diverse as Earth, Wind & Fire's I Am (Columbia, 1979) , the early-1980s incarnation of King Crimson and Discipline (DGM Live, 1981), and the post-new wave reinvention of Joe Jackson's classic Night and Day (A&M, 1982). And jazz, of course, always jazz.

All these things are brought to bear on The Gate, as Elling continues his longstanding relationship with pianist/arranger Laurence Hobgood, a 16-year teaming that has engendered the kind of comfort that, rather than turning to complacency, encourages a constant pushing of the vocal jazz envelop. A relatively faithful version of Crimson's lyrical "Matte Kudesai" is made special through Elling's ability to both respect the music and reimagine it. Bassist John Patitucci
John Patitucci
John Patitucci
b.1959
bass
drives the tune, while Hobgood delivers delicate accompaniment and guitarist John McLean
John McLean
John McLean

guitar
layers swelling guitar lines that often mirror Adrian Belew
Adrian Belew
Adrian Belew
b.1949
guitar
's original parts, but with a more ethereal bent. Elling sings the song his own way, but through subtle turn of phrase rather than broader interpretation, with a clear appreciation of the fine line between loving respect and healthy irreverence.

Like in his recent Ottawa Jazz Festival performance, Elling's swinging version of Jackson's "Steppin' Out" is a highlight, featuring a solo from Hobgood that moves effortlessly in, out and around the song's changes. Even more so, The Beatles
The Beatles
The Beatles

band/orchestra
' often covered "Norwegian Wood" is a career watershed, Elling and Hobgood's captivating arrangement is lifted by McLean's heavily overdriven and angular solo. Building to an exciting climax, bolstered by drummer Terreon Gully, McLean gives way to Elling's final verse and an outro where the singer builds his own peak with layered voices first introduced earlier in the song, when he takes scat-rooted improvisational liberties, though removed from its general conventions.

Retaining the soulfulness of Earth, Wind & Fire's power ballad, "After The Love Has Gone," Elling delivers it with greater elegance, Hobgood's rhythmic arrangement making for a more insidious groove, that gradually reveals itself as the song unfolds, with saxophonist Bob Mintzer
Bob Mintzer
Bob Mintzer
b.1953
saxophone
filling in the spaces with evocative accompanying lines. Elling effortlessly moves across his broad range, executing challenging intervals from gritty lows to gentle falsetto, all with precision and pitch-perfect instincts that help build the tune to a soft peak. McLean's swelling chords create an atmospheric cloud above Hobgood's delicate but expressionistic support.

Elling also covers Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder
b.1950
keyboard
("Golden Lady"), a lesser-known Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
b.1940
piano
ballad from Sunlight (Columbia, 1978) ("Come Running to Me") and a brighter update of Al Jarreau
Al Jarreau
Al Jarreau
b.1940
vocalist
's version of Miles Davis
Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
trumpet
' "Blue in Green," where Hobgood's arrangement mirrors the intro to Elling's version of Pat Metheny
Pat Metheny
Pat Metheny
b.1954
guitar
/Lyle Mays
Lyle Mays
Lyle Mays
b.1953
keyboard
' "Minuano," from Man in the Air (Blue Note, 2003). Elling and Hobgood take on more contemporary instrumental jazz fare, morphing bassist Marc Johnson
Marc Johnson
Marc Johnson
b.1953
bass
's groove-laden "Samurai Hee Haw," from Bass Desires (ECM, 1986), into the quirky reflection on "the life of the mind" on "Samurai Cowboy." With only Gulley's spare percussive accompaniment and Mintzer buried somewhere in the weeds, Elling creates a compelling vocal orchestra, layering voice-driven bass lines and percussion. A lengthy look at the late Don Grolnick
Don Grolnick
Don Grolnick
1947 - 1996
piano
's "Nighttown" ends the album on a darker note, as "Nighttown, Lady Bright" features a lengthy spoken word middle section, transitioning into an atmospheric closing solo from Hobgood.

More and more artists are looking to the songs that attracted them to music in the first place, and with Elling crossing boundaries between progressive rock, pop, soul and R&B, he's made an album that's eminently accessible but—produced with tremendous instinct by Don Was (and co-produced by Elling and Hobgood)—reveals multifaceted layers with every successive listen. Elling has been on a particular roll since Man in the Air, and with The Gate he proves that good music is where you find it—and that it's all about putting a personal stamp on it, without losing sight of what made it great in the first place.


Tracks: Matte Kudesai; Steppin' Out; Come Running to Me; Norwegian Wood; Blue in Green; Samurai Cowboy; After the Love Has Gone; Golden Lady; Nighttown, Lady Bright.

Personnel: Kurt Elling: voice; Bob Mintzer: tenor saxophone; John McLean: guitar; Laurence Hobgood: piano; John Patitucci: bass; Terreon Gulley: drums and percussion (1, 2-5, 8, 9); Kobie Watkins: drums (2, 5, 7); Lenny Castro: percussion (2, 3, 5, 6).

Track Listing: Track #1; Track #2; Track #3.

Personnel: Musician Name #1: instrument; Musician Name #2: instrument; Musician Name #3: instrument.

Record Label: Concord Music Group

Style: Vocal


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