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Kurt Elling 1619 Broadway: Brill Building Project Review

Album. Released 2012.  

BBC Review

Elling’s individualist vocal reinterpretations are well worth hearing.

Martin Longley 2012

This album’s title refers to the address of the Brill Building, New York’s famed songwriting factory. Kurt Elling sets out to cover several obvious selections from its resident writers in the heyday of popular song, alongside a handful of less-predictable ditties.

Elling time-warps these tunes into a different era of jazz fusion (perhaps the 1980s), the band often employing the amplified versions of guitars, bass and keyboards. And Elling’s individualist vocal reinterpretations are well worth hearing. Long-serving arranger and keyboardist Laurence Hobgood leads the quartet core, frequently expanded by a revolving horn section.

Elling concentrates on the poppier 1960s era of the Brill. Leiber and Stoller’s On Broadway opens with verbal rejection notices for the aspiring songbird. Several tracks feature similar interjections of dialogue, establishing an aura of radio broadcast drama. With an overabundance of reverb and other sonic tweaks, the cumulative soaking effect is one of a locational sound painting.

Acoustic instruments work side-by-side with their electrified siblings, creating some intriguing combinations. There’s a ghostly gospel vocal chorus on Sam Cooke’s You Send Me, set to a dreamy funk vibe. Ernie Watts delivers some prominent tenor saxophone fills on I’m Satisfied, but overall it’s Elling who’s always central, his soloists making brief statements.

He might get slightly slushy for Bacharach and David’s A House Is Not a Home, but Elling ultimately carries off its sentiments. Shoppin’ for Clothes offers a comic doo-woppin’ diversion, sporting a jive-talkin’ dialogue with Christian McBride. It’s one of several tunes mixing humour with economic depression.

Goffin and King’s Pleasant Valley Sunday is pushier, with layered electric guitars and sound-snatches which make it almost sound like a watered-down Frank Zappa tune. Duke Ellington’s Tutti for Cootie gyrates around a walking bass core, building up to some swinging horns for its conclusion.

Elling is a smoothie, yes, but he’s coming down in a line of vocal naturalists like Mark Murphy. He breaks up the phrasing into his own, skipping through puddles of deep atmosphere, dragging behind or jumping out in front of the beat, making the verses float.

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