All About Jazz

Home » Articles » CD/LP/Track Review

Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...

8

The Branford Marsalis Quartet with Special Guest Kurt Elling: Upward Spiral

Dan Bilawsky By

Sign in to view read count
To one extent or another, jazz has always maintained a discriminatory dividing line between vocalists and instrumentalists. Instead of being viewed as equals—artists on par with all the rest, possessing the same good sense, skill, and stake in an artistic outcome—vocalists have often been unfairly stigmatized and interned in a separate category. But all of that has slowly been changing, due in no small part to a large and continually growing crop of vocalists who are consistently raising the bar.

For the past two decades, the one and only Kurt Elling has been a central figure in that category. He's both world-wise and street smart in his moves, able to touch on highbrow topics and base emotions with equal success. There's been a hint of vanity in some of his fine art, but it's never there without just cause. The man acknowledges his influences but remains a school of one, a force of nature who's capable of covering more ground than almost anybody. There's simply nobody else who's better suited to enter into an artistic agreement with one of jazz's most outspoken personalities—saxophonist Branford Marsalis.

Whether on or off the bandstand, Marsalis doesn't mince words or ideas. Due to that fact, few vocalists are really up to the challenge of entering his orbit and thriving in such a climate. In Elling, however, Marsalis has found one who's every bit his match. The saxophonist and his quartet mates are able to telescope focus toward Elling's warm, strong, and pliant voice, and Elling is able to accentuate the inherently melodic and lyrical qualities in this group's work. The beauty in Marsalis' music isn't cited often enough, as many tend to focus exclusively on the edgier side of his sound. This project rectifies that problem.

This playlist is as eclectic as one might expect given the architects at the drawing board. Everybody from saxophonist Sonny Rollins to vocalist Elis Regina and pianist Fred Hersch to poet Calvin Forbes is referenced in one way or another, and the music is suffused with graciousness, beauty, and, on occasion, heartbreak. Elling dons the face of Mr. Charisma on "There's A Boat Dat's Leavin' Soon For New York," maintains his status as the heir to Mark Murphy's throne of hip on "Doxy," delves into modern jazz Americana on Hersch's "West Virginia Rose," and plays it cool as the breeze on "Só Tinha De Ser Com Você." Through every one of those turns, Marsalis and company are right there with him, exploring every little and large event with the utmost respect for the music and the contributions of one another.

Understatement serves as a source of strength in much of this music, and fragility is as strong a lure as any of the aforementioned qualities. Case in point is Sting's "Practical Arrangement," a song that elicits an incredibly strong emotional response. That number alone is worth the price of admission, and it's not the only tearjerker. The Marsalis-Elling duo take on "I'm A Fool To Want You," while delivered with more poise and less vulnerability, belongs in the same category.

While there are far more ambitious outings in the respective discographies of both of these marquee names, there's nothing more arresting in either man's portfolio. Beauty becomes these musicians. They carry the torch of grace to the heavens in their own inimitable upward spiral.

Track Listing: There's A Boat Dat's Leavin' Soon For New York; Blue Gardenia; From One Island To Another; Practical Arrangement; Doxy; I'm A Fool To Want You; West Virgina Rose; Só Tinha de Ser Com Você; Momma Said; Cassandra Song; Blue Velvet; The Return (Upward Spiral).

Personnel: Branford Marsalis: saxophones; Joey Calderazzo: piano; Eric Revis: bass; Justin Faulkner: drums; Kurt Elling: vocals.

Title: Upward Spiral | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Okeh

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 Lebroba CD/LP/Track Review
Lebroba
by Mark Sullivan
Published: November 22, 2018
Read The Lullaby Project CD/LP/Track Review
The Lullaby Project
by Jack Bowers
Published: November 22, 2018
Read Jazz In Detroit / Strata Concert Gallery / 46 Selden CD/LP/Track Review
Jazz In Detroit / Strata Concert Gallery / 46 Selden
by Karl Ackermann
Published: November 22, 2018
Read Intimate Adversary CD/LP/Track Review
Intimate Adversary
by Chris Mosey
Published: November 22, 2018
Read Songs from the Alan Lomax Collection CD/LP/Track Review
Songs from the Alan Lomax Collection
by Glenn Astarita
Published: November 22, 2018
Read Pendulum CD/LP/Track Review
Pendulum
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: November 21, 2018
Read "Simbiose" CD/LP/Track Review Simbiose
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: April 18, 2018
Read "Together" CD/LP/Track Review Together
by Jack Bowers
Published: September 26, 2018
Read "Before Dawn" CD/LP/Track Review Before Dawn
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: March 30, 2018
Read "Putumayo Presents: Ska Around the World" CD/LP/Track Review Putumayo Presents: Ska Around the World
by Jim Trageser
Published: October 20, 2018
Read "The Rabbit and the Fallen Sycamore" CD/LP/Track Review The Rabbit and the Fallen Sycamore
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: June 12, 2018
Read "Live in Lisbon" CD/LP/Track Review Live in Lisbon
by Glenn Astarita
Published: September 13, 2018