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Kurt Elling: The Messenger

In this follow-up to his acclaimed Blue Note debut, the Grammy-nominated Close Your Eyes (1995), vocalist Kurt Elling once again hits gold. There are bracing standards like “April in Paris,” taken as a sultry bossa nova with attitude, and originals such as “It’s Just a Thing,” which, while recalling the ever-hip Lord Buckley, also spotlights Elling’s evocative Kerouac-esque storytelling.

For flat-out scat, check out the roller coaster ride through “Ginger Bread Boy,” a manic chase in which Elling’s cannonades are answered by furious barrages by Laurence Hobgood and drummer Paul Wertico. On the stylistic flip-side, Elling, with a gorgeous intro by veteran Chicago tenor player Eddie Johnson, waxes lyrical with a richly-embossed “Prelude to a Kiss.”

Throughout, one is impressed by Elling’s heartfelt immediacy, his extraordinary versatility and vocal finesse. Whether a straight-ahead essay on “Nature Boy,” an engaging vocalese tracing a Dexter Gordon solo on “Tanya Jean,” or a “melodic rant” in the midst of “The Beauty of all Things,” Elling sounds a note at once contemporary and timeless.

Originally Published