In 2020, the torch of an American jazz singer who died in 1978 is being carried—improbably—by a 23-year-old German. Erik Leuthäuser has made a few solo records like 2018’s Wünschen, a mix of vocal jazz and glitchy experimentation. But on his new unadorned live album, he and pianist Wolfgang Köhler are firmly In the Land of Irene Kral & Alan Broadbent.
Kral, a midrange singer with tasteful vibrato and laser-beam diction, made a few good-to-great albums in the 1960s and 1970s before dying of breast cancer at only 46. Her two essential works, 1974’s Where Is Love? and 1978’s Gentle Rain, are ballad albums with only Alan Broadbent accompanying her on piano. Leuthäuser draws heavily from those albums, and when he sticks to ballads (“I Like You, You’re Nice,” “A Time for Love/Small World,” “You Are There”), you believe. Given room to breathe, he displays vocal richness beyond his years, and he does the undersung Kral justice. American jazz vocalist Judy Niemack steps up to bolster him on two Landesman/Wolf tunes, “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most” and “It’s Nice Weather for Ducks.”
The only problem is that during upbeat songs, Leuthäuser struggles. Take “Experiment,” a zippy Cole Porter tune that Kral covered on her 1977 album Kral Space. Whether due to the tempo, the cadence, or both, Leuthäuser’s accent bleeds through, and Porter’s lofty words—portals, mortals, and Philistines—become speedbumps. The program could also have used some editing. Where Is Love? is only 39 minutes long; at 75 minutes, In the Land of Irene Kral & Alan Broadbent is almost twice that.
Still, don’t take the length as self-indulgence: Leuthäuser clearly loves these songs and wants listeners to love them too. There’s a wide berth for the velvet-voiced, history-curious singer to come into his own in the next decade. As a wise woman sang, it isn’t so good it couldn’t get better.