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Singer Kurt Elling’s first three recordings for Blue Note records were quite ambitious, but being studio albums, they lost much of Elling’s spirit in the production. The jazz singer, like the poet, is best heard live. Elling, captured during a three-night gig at Chicago’s Green Mill, finally has realized (on record) his full potential. He’s a scatting, rapping, swinging metaphysician of hip. The former philosophy and divinity student picks up on the vocal tradition of Mark Murphy, maybe becoming the Chicago cousin of Frank Sinatra. Packed with guest appearances, the seventy minutes of music hardly seems adequate to satisfy a listener. There’s a duet with hand drummer Kahil El’Zabar on Sting’s “Oh My God,” Jon Hendricks joins in on two tracks swapping vocals and smart scatting, and Chicago saxophonists Ed Petersen, Von Freeman, and Eddie Johnson crash the party for the spoken-word jam, “The Rent Party.” An early entry into my list of jazz records of the year, Elling is the everyman’s singer. Like Tony Bennett, and Springsteen for that matter, his voice isn’t pretty but real. You think, I could sing like that and then he scats “The Flight of The Bumblebee,” and you realize there’s a fuel-injected six-cylinder turbo under his hood. As long as he doesn’t catch Cassandra Wilson (overproduction) disease, he should be at the top of the vocal game for some time.
Track Listing: Downtown; My Foolish Heart; Smoke Gets In Your Eyes; Oh My God; Night Dream; (I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons; Intro: (Esperanto); Esperanto; Don’t Get Scared; Into (Goin’ To Chicago); Goin’ To Chicago; Intro (The Rent Party); The Rent Party; Blues Chaser.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.