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Kurt Elling: Stories from New York

R.J. DeLuke By

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Elling also selected songs by Carole King-"So Far Away" and "Pleasant Valley Sunday"-who was not centered in the Brill, but was headquartered down the street a bit on Broadway, however important during that era. "The things from the epicenter had to be included. But I didn't want to be didactic in my choices, I wanted to have the primary reason that I was choosing a composition be my own love for that song and the fact that I had some kind of an idea of something I can do to and for that song," says Elling. "Rather than 'Well, here's what we have to go through in order to prove the point for our term paper.' That doesn't interest me nearly as much."

Elling and longtime pianist Laurence Hobgood exchanged ideas on the material and together and cooperated on many of the arrangements. Hobgood arranged some of the other songs. This excellent collaborating team was in synch. "We definitely worked on that together until we were satisfied," Elling notes.

Elling say it's not difficult to encompass songs outside the jazz lexicon, "provided they have an architectural coherence and a statement of their own that they're making. Laurence and I have the same approach regardless. If we take on 'You Are Too Beautiful,' we just try to do what's right for the song and the way we are hearing it. It's beautifully structured. It's a beautiful lyric. Some of these compositions ... for instance, on this record, 'Pleasant Valley Sunday' ... Sure, it sounds a lot different, but our initial question is the same as 'You Are Too Beautiful.' What can we do with that? Where do we begin? What's right for this piece? As Duke Ellington said: The material is immaterial. It's all what you do with it."

The recording is serene and polished, offering fans more musical treats to chew on from this band, which now includes Clark Summers on bass, John McLean on guitar and the marvelous Kendrick Scott on drums. The group's coast-to-coast U.S. North American tour started in October in Vancouver, Canada, and continues into next year, though with some breaks. A year from now, the band will be touring in Europe.

Elling also enjoys changing it up, getting away from the comfort of his quartet, to get involved in other projects; other challenges. In 2012, Elling did some touring with seven-string guitarist Charlie Hunter, joined only by drummer Derrick Phillips, in a pared-down setting that dealt with a different repertoire and opened up to a more freewheeling style. "A little bit more room for me to make my own notes happen," Elling says. There may be more of that in the future, as time allows.

A different challenge. A different setup," is what prompts Elling to try different projects, like singing with a big band, or with pianist Fred Hersch, or drummer John Hollenbeck's Claudia Quintet, all of which have occupied some of the singer's time in recent years. "We all need a break from our usual creative environments in order to find a couple of new notes to play. I know that I won't have the chance any time soon to make a much larger project out of my time with Charlie. So, inasmuch as I can throw a quick summer together of touring and minimal number of rehearsals and just have fun with it-that's a nice change of pace for me ... It depends on the occasion and what ideas are percolating."

"It was a ball. Charlie's a great musician and a wonderful friend. He's so funny and great to be with on the road. He's got a marvelous sense of humor. He's there to be really supportive and play whatever is right for the music. Between Charlie and Derrick and me, we just had a ball," says Elling.

"He's a great, great singer," Hunter says. "Being behind someone like that, I just feel like I could play all day. Simple stuff, which is the stuff I like to play ... I like doing the instrumental thing as well. But I love just sitting back there and grooving and trying to create a nice groove for him to do what he does over it. That's a pretty satisfying feeling."

There are some other projects on the horizon as well. Elling be recording with the WDR Symphony Orchestra in Cologne, Germany, in December. "We'll be doing expanded Michael Abene orchestra arrangements of the charts that Laurence and I came up with for the show with [accordionist] Richard Galliano some time ago. That show will be called Passion World. I'm going to sing in six or seven different languages and I really look forward to doing that." the release will probably be in 2014.

Elling is also going to be doing some 2013 gigs with saxophonist Tommy Smith and the Scottish Jazz Orchestra. So it's continuing to be busy for this jazz singer. He says the state of jazz singing these days is very good, and expresses confidence that there are vocalists out there taking up the cause.


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