Sunday, June 15, 2014

Kurt Elling - The Messenger

I really thought we'd open The Messenger with "The Messenger". We had an intense take of the piece, which Ed Petersen had written some time before and to which I had attached some favorite lyrics. We recorded it using Ed's regular Monday night band (with Jim Widlowski burning up the rhythm). In that session my improvised story or solo was followed by one of Ed's most impassioned and fierce solos. I was so proud of Ed and of the cut. I was hungry to send it out & thought of it as a musical calling card from the future. I was also really cheesed about "Endless", another Ed Band staple that I thought had come together in a spectacular way in the session. For that cut and based on Ed's great musical writing, I had written out random, free-association words on a napkin from the take-out place we were ordering from those days. I used them as a launching pad for my solo's thematic drive. I was (and am still) very happy with the outcome. The band, of course, sounds burning. Moreover, Laurence and I had written some new things that I knew people would like — things they'd be happy to have in their lives. "The Beauty Of All Things" came together because Laurence had a vision of me on a windswept, moonlight coastal night at some festival somewhere laying out that music and that message in such a way that we'd know we were doing what we came on this earth to do. Laurence had also ingeniously sewn "Beauty" and "Prayer For Mr. Davis", his sublime paean with my recently composed lyric in a suite with "The Dance" — a classic LH orchestration. I was coming to know more and more the remarkable gifts my collaborator possessed. He was (and is) musically astonishing. We also had "Tanya Jean", the first really long-form vocalese lyric I had completed. I wrote it over a favorite Dexter Gordon solo I first heard while living abroad, thanks to my friend Gordon Drummond. I did most of the writing work in a spate of sleep writing experiments I was doing then, staying up 'til all hours with the disc on permanent repeat and waking myself up to write down whatever connections were cohering between melody, emotion, concept and text. We had a lot of crazy cool stuff, I thought. Well, we sent in the rough mixed to Bruce and Tom Evered at Blue Note. They loved the new stuff, they said, "but do you think you could come up with some standards to round this thing out?" Standards? I was still young enough to be ignorant of the need in the Jazz world to draw listeners in before bonking them over the head with headstrong new-osity. I was full of beans. Without Tom's request, we would have missed many of the arrangements that have become our fans' favorites, some of our signature things. Sure, I had this vague idea of mixing "April in Paris" with a Metheny-like groove & we also had access to Ed Petersen's "Nature Boy" riff. But to put them on The Messenger? Hmmm. - by Kurt Elling

This is one of the most interesting jazz vocal sets to be released in 1997. Kurt Elling covers a wide range of music, continually taking chances and coming up with fresh approaches. He is assisted by his longtime pianist Laurence Hopgood, different bassists and drummers, and on various tracks trumpeter Orbert Davis and the tenors of Edward Petersen and Eddie Johnson. Among the more memorable selections are Elling's vocalese version of Dexter Gordon's solo on the lengthy "Tanya Jean," and his spontaneous storytelling on "It's Just a Thing" (a classic of its kind), some wild scatting on "Gingerbread Boy," the fairly free improvising of "Endless," and his mostly straightforward renditions of "Nature Boy," "April In Paris" and "Prelude to a Kiss." Cassandra Wilson drops by for "Time of the Season," but does not make much of an impression. This rewarding and continually intriguing set is particularly recommended to listeners who feel that jazz singing has not progressed much beyond bop.- by Scott Yanow, AMG

Artist: Kurt Elling
Album.: The Messenger
Year: 1997
Label: Blue Note
Runtime: 72:06

1.  Nature Boy (Eden Abhez) 6:09
2.  April in Paris (Vernon Duke/Yip Harburg) 5:11
3.  The Beauty of All Things (Kurt Elling/Laurence Hobgood) 8:07
4.  The Dance (Laurence Hobgood) 1:33
5.  Prayer For Mr. Davis (Kurt Elling/Laurence Hobgood) 6:03
6.  Endless (Edward Petersen) 4:48
7.  Tanya Jean (Donald Byrd/Kurt Elling) 10:16
8.  It's Just A Thing (Laurence Hobgood/Eric Hochberg/Paul Wertico) 4:31
9.  Ginger Bread Boy (Jimmy Heath) 5:02
10.  Prelude To A Kiss (Duke Ellington/Irving Gordon/Irving Mills) 5:27
11.  Time Of The Season (Rod Argent/Paul Atkinson/Colin Blunstone/Hugh Grundy/Chris White) 5:53
12.  The Messenger (Kurt Elling/Edward Petersen) 9:00

Kurt Elling (Vocals)
Laurence Hobgood (Piano, Synthesizer)
Rob Amster (Double Bass, Bass Guitar) - 1-6,9,10,12
Paul Wertico (Drums, Percussion) - 1-5,7-9,11
Jim Widlowski (Drums, Percussion) - 2,6,11,12
Eric Hochberg (Double Bass) - 7,8,11
Edward Petersen (Tenor Saxophone) - 6,12
Eddie Johnson (Tenor Saxophone) - 10
Orbert Davis (Trumpet, Flugelhorn) - 2,5
Cassandra Wilson (Vocals) - 11



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