Kurt Elling The Gate Review

Album. Released 2011.  

BBC Review

Another potential Grammy-winner from the jazz vocalist.

Kathryn Shackleton 2011

The Gate sees Grammy-winning US vocalist Kurt Elling collaborating with rock producer Don Was and showing the same respect for Earth, Wind & Fire and Joe Jackson as he has previously for the poetry of Rumi and Rilke.

As you’d expect from Kurt Elling, The Gate is an impeccably stylish album that coaxes jazz from unusual sources. Prog-rock band King Crimson’s Matte Kudasai is a beautiful opener featuring simple bass lines by John Patitucci against Elling’s soaring and poignant vocals.

More engineering has gone into The Beatles’ Norwegian Wood, with its instrumental and vocal sections, tricky rhythms and timing, and its exciting distorted guitar solo by Elling’s fellow Chicagoan John McLean. All this messing with the original may sound unnecessary, but it’s worth it for the dark humour it brings.

Like a beat poet, Kurt half speaks, half sings through Nighttown, Lady Bright, and he sets his own lyrics to Miles Davis’ haunting ballad Blue in Green, showing off his immense vocal range and rich baritone. He hits impossibly high notes effortlessly and crafts each sound with such care that it’s hard to tell whether it’s coming from his vocal chords or a bass or piano.

The Gate captures Kurt singing gospel, soul and jazz and he even takes his first steps towards beat-boxing on Samurai Cowboy. Reworking a solo by jazz bassist Marc Johnson, Elling builds up layers of percussive vocals while Bob Mintzer accompanies him on tenor sax from the next room.

They come from different backgrounds, but each of the songs on The Gate describes a single experience or mood, and Elling makes them all fizz with emotion. If life is fair, this is sure to be another Grammy winner.

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