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Five Essential Kurt Elling Albums

Christopher Loudon recommends five albums by one of the music's greatest living vocalists

Kurt Elling performing on The Jazz Cruise in February 2018 (photo by Tuke Photography)
Kurt Elling performing on The Jazz Cruise in February 2018 (photo by Tuke Photography)
Cover of Kurt Elling album This Time It's Love
Cover of Kurt Elling album This Time It’s Love

This Time It’s Love (Blue Note, 1998)
Elling’s two most consequential influences, Frank Sinatra and Mark Murphy, are skillfully balanced in this standards-heavy set of elegant readings subtly bent with keen interpretive experimentation. Provided lean support from a core quartet of pianist Laurence Hobgood, guitarist Dave Onderdonk, bassist Rob Amster and drummer/percussionist Michael Raynor, Elling travels from the romantic depths of “My Foolish Heart” to a lighter-than-air “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing” and, propelled by violinist Johnny Frigo, a puckish “I Feel So Smoochie.” Highlight: Elling shaping a paean to wife Jennifer with a roiling vocalese reworking of “She’s Funny That Way.”

Cover of Kurt Elling album Nightmoves
Cover of Kurt Elling album Nightmoves

Nightmoves (Concord Jazz, 2007)
Elling’s penchant for mixing works by poets of all stripes first reached full stride with Nightmoves. A band featuring Hobgood, Amster, drummer Willie Jones III and, on six of 11 tracks, bassist Christian McBride is augmented by assorted guests. Elling commingles Walt Whitman, Roethke, Betty Carter, Michael Franks, Duke Ellington, Irving Berlin and Randy Bachman, and twice navigates exquisite pairings: “Change Partners” with “If You Never Come to Me,” featuring Jobim-worthy accompaniment from guitarist Guilherme Monteiro; and a heartbreaking inter­weaving of a Keith Jarrett improvisation and “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning.”

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