You can’t help but dig it!
Kathryn Shackleton 2007
A modern-day musical alchemist, US jazz singer Kurt Elling turns influences from a stunning number of sources into nuggets of pure, spiritual music.
To get to Nightmoves, his first recording for Concord but his seventh in all, Kurt’s musical family tree passes through the Beat Generation (note his sharp suits and his ability to say ‘dig’ without people sniggering), via Jon Hendricks and Mark Murphy. As a high priest of vocalese - the art of enshrining improvisations by writing lyrics to them - he plays his voice like an instrument.
‘'Leaving Again/In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning'’ is a piano-vocal ballad which sets Kurt’s lyrics to a Keith Jarrett improvisation. Laurence Hobgood’s piano does as little as possible to interfere with Kurt’s soaring, silver tones, and a slight dissonance between piano and voice recalls the other-worldliness of waking after a dream. The piece resolves beautifully into a lyrical cameo of ‘'In the Wee Small Hours'’. Kurt’s dynamics and range are astounding in another vocalese piece, a version of '‘Body and Soul'’ dedicated to his daughter. Moving from a quiet beginning to a swing-fest, Kurt sings his stream-of-consciousness lyrics through a storming Dexter Gordon solo.
Much of Nightmoves is based on themes of night, sleeping and waking, but it’s not a threatening view of night, it’s an introspective and liberating one. Poems reveal visions in Kurt’s waking/sleeping world, and he sings the words of Walt Whitman’s The Sleepers with the sweetness of an Elizabethan madrigal. Another poem, The Waking by Roethke, is an uplifting duet between Kurt’s rich baritone and Rob Amster’s deep and rhythmic bass. Some of the best US sidemen are represented on Nightmoves, and the title track, a great cinematic Michael Franks song, features Christian McBride’s languid but funky bass and Bob Mintzer’s airy tenor lines against Kurt’s soulful, upfront delivery.
Kurt Elling’s piece de resistance here is ‘'I Like the Sunrise'’. He’s taken Ellington’s music and appended to it his own version of the 13th century poet Rumi’s work, which he sings through Chicago saxman Von Freeman’s improvised lines. Phew! You can’t help but dig it!