All About Jazz

Home » Articles » CD/LP/Track Review

304

Kurt Elling: Man in the Air

Dan McClenaghan By

Sign in to view read count
It's often said of particular jazz singers: "He's (she's) really got a good set of pipes." And the compliment seems meant to denote the sheer God-given beauty of the vocal instument.

The thirty-five year old Kurt Elling, who came to jazz singing relatively late in life – though his vocal beginnings can be traced back to his boyhood, singing in the church choir – is a definite possesser of pipes. His has perhaps the most horn-like vocal approach out there: a baritone horn, under complete control.

For Man in the Air, Elling's sixth CD, the singer composed the vocal parts for ten of the twelve tracks, putting words to the melodies of Coltrane, Pat Metheny, Joe Zawinal, Bob Mintzer and Herbie Hancock, proving that his talent goes beyond the realm of pipes. It is an ambitious and highly successful effort.

Speaking of ambitious: Elling doesn't tackle just any Coltrane, but the towering "Resolution" from A Love Supreme. And he nails it, vocal power and control in conjunction with the a set of fitting words, spinning images of a world-spanning array of spiritual themes that at times take on the feel of an improvisational stream of consciouness. But they couldn't be off the cuff – the tempo is too urgent, notes (syllables) coming too fast. And oh, those pipes.

"The More I Have You" is an Elling composition, a hypnotic piece featuring some delicate piano lines and fluid scatting over a churning rhythm. "Never My Love," a tune originally recorded by a group called The Association, hit the top ten back in the late '60s. Their version was rather diluted and over-produced, saccharine. Elling gives the song a proper airing, very laid back, with the contained power of his vocal showcasing a beautiful melody.

"The Uncertainty of the Poet" is the only weak spot on the album. With lyrics (not Elling's) like "I am am a poet, I am very fond of bananas" and an almost doo-woppish atmosphere, this thankfully short bit of whimsey is an unecessary break in the more serious overall mood of the recording.

Of special note on Man in the Air is vibraphonist Stefon Harris' contribution. The brightness and bounce of the vibraphone counterpoints beautifully with Elling's low-resonance tone, especially on "Hidden Jewel" and "In the Winelight."

Man in the Air is a solid, cohesive piece of artistry and vocal virtuosity. Not Elling's seemingly inevitable masterpiece, but an inexorable step in that direction, and one of the finest vocal CDs of the year.


Track Listing: Minuano, In the Winelight, Resolution, Time to Say Goodbye, The Uncertainty of the Poet, The More I Have You, Man in the Air, A Secret I, Higher Vibe, Hidden Jewel, Never My Love, All is Quiet

Personnel: Kurt Elling, vocals; Laurence Hobgood, piano and Rhodes electric piano; Bob Amster, bass; Frank Parker, Jr., drums and percussion; Stefon Harris, vibes; Jim Gailloreto, soprano sax; with Paul Wertico, drums on track #1; Brad Wheeler, soprano sax on track #1

Title: Man in the Air | Year Released: 2003 | Record Label: Blue Note Records

Tags

comments powered by Disqus

Shop Music & Tickets

Click any of the store links below and you'll support All About Jazz in the process. Learn how.

Related Articles

Read Ancestros CD/LP/Track Review
Ancestros
by Karl Ackermann
Published: November 18, 2018
Read The Bitter Suite CD/LP/Track Review
The Bitter Suite
by Jack Bowers
Published: November 18, 2018
Read Ornettiquette CD/LP/Track Review
Ornettiquette
by Chris Mosey
Published: November 18, 2018
Read The Astral Revelations CD/LP/Track Review
The Astral Revelations
by John Sharpe
Published: November 18, 2018
Read The Sound Of The Earth CD/LP/Track Review
The Sound Of The Earth
by Glenn Astarita
Published: November 18, 2018
Read Return to the Future CD/LP/Track Review
Return to the Future
by Mark Sullivan
Published: November 17, 2018
Read "Esperanto/Toca Antonio Carlos Jobim" CD/LP/Track Review Esperanto/Toca Antonio Carlos Jobim
by Chris M. Slawecki
Published: May 13, 2018
Read "Daughter Of The Sun" CD/LP/Track Review Daughter Of The Sun
by Gareth Thompson
Published: October 11, 2018
Read "Hidden Details" CD/LP/Track Review Hidden Details
by Mike Jurkovic
Published: October 15, 2018
Read "Originals For the Originals" CD/LP/Track Review Originals For the Originals
by Paul Rauch
Published: November 20, 2017
Read "Fullmoon" CD/LP/Track Review Fullmoon
by Karl Ackermann
Published: April 24, 2018
Read "Sun Sparkle" CD/LP/Track Review Sun Sparkle
by Gareth Thompson
Published: May 29, 2018