Irony runs rampant in my review of jazz singer Kurt Elling’s Nightmoves, which is brand new on the Concord label, the first of his three record deal with them. The seven-time Grammy nominee was previously a long-standing part of Blue Note’s stable of performers, and during his time with them pretty much became the top male jazz vocalist around. He’s a perennial Downbeat poll winner who is also known for delighting audiences with his live performances, where he entertains with everything from arcane poetry to scat singing.
The irony exists on a couple of levels. First comes the fact that the last time I mentioned Elling in an album review, it was last year when I wrote about Old School – New Lessons by the Mintzer Big Band, and at that time I said Elling’s guest shot was – er – the least enjoyable part of the album. I wasn’t exactly criticizing Elling himself in that review, but his appearance didn’t seem to me as if it fit in with the rest of the album, which was mostly thumpin’, drivin’ big band jazz. (In yet another bit of the ol’ irony, I ended up choosing that album as my best of the year.)
Which bring us to this album, in which Elling, who has always been known for improvisation but has been moving closer to the mainstream (to the dismay of some) continues his move by giving us a number of romantic ballads. But he hasn’t totally abandoned the style that his long-time fans know and love. Even though most of this album has a more traditional style, he still finds the opportunity to improvise from time to time, and even throws in some of his trademark scat singing, so those who prefer that side of Elling will still find plenty to like here.
In one more little touch of irony (a concept I’ve worn out by now but hope you’ll tolerate) Bob Minzter of the aforementioned Minzter Big Band is one of the best things about the title tune of this album, as his lush tenor sax frames Elling’s rich baritone. It’s a process that also works well on “Undun”, a song that’s one of the best on the album. There are a number of guest artists in addition to Minzter, and the Escher String Quartet also shows up on a couple of tunes. Also joining Elling on most of the songs is his regular trio, which consists of pianist-arranger Laurence Hobgood, bassist Rob Amster and drummer Willie Jones III.
I admit to a fondness for old standards, and enjoyed Elling’s version of “Body And Soul”, a song that’s almost obligatory on any collection of jazz ballads. Also to be savored is the medley “Leaving Again/In The Wee Small Hours”, especially the latter part, where Elling’s soulful, poignant sound trumps Sinatra’s version, something I wouldn’t have thought possible.
A good collection that touches on the many different sides and shadings of a talented jazz singer in the prime of his performing life.