Jazz Vocals

A Bow To The Brill Bldg.


Kurt Elling's eagerly awaited new CD has arrived. 1619 Broadway — The Brill Building Project celebrates the prodigious output of NYC's storied hit factory, eschewing the oft-recorded American Songbook standards of Gershwin and Porter in favor of more eclectic selections.

Songs from The Monkees, Carole King and Paul Simon may seem incongruous paired with Sammy Cahn's "Come Fly With Me" and Duke Ellington's "Tutti For Cootie," but the various composers were at one point all housed in the Brill Building. Elling made his bones as a hard-bop horn-style vocalist so closing the set with the Ellington makes perfect sense, reassuring fans that he hasn't abandoned that singing style even as he forges new ground with more current material.

Elling and his longtime collaborator pianist/arranger Laurence Hobgood have an almost spooky talent for arranging and reharmonizing material, creating a sound that reinvents the original while respecting the core sentiment of each song. Sam Cooke's "You Send Me" and "I Only Have Eyes For You," most notably recorded by The Flamingos, are completely transformed into something darker, moodier and more musically dense.

Like his predecessor Mark Murphy, Elling has a penchant for injecting spoken word sections into his work. Here, it lightens the mood with humor and self-effacement. The opening track "On Broadway" begins with Elling scuffling for gigs, literally by the sounds of footsteps pounding the pavement, and being met with a series of rejections. Aspiring performers can take heart that this rite of passage happens to the best of them.

"Shoppin' For Clothes," one of The Coasters' more obscure releases, gets the spoken/sung treatment as Elling's character buys a suit from a salesman. The results are guaranteed to put a smile on your face. "Pleasant Valley Sunday" takes a darker turn than the original Monkees version with vintage sitcom sound clips, off-kilter studio effects and Elling's sardonic approach to the melody.

Elling is a 12-time Downbeat Best Male Vocalist recipient and a multiple Grammy nominee, winning for best Vocal Jazz Album for 2009's Dedicated To You. It's a safe bet that 1916 Broadway will be a frontrunner for next year's awards.