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Kurt Elling: 1619 Broadway: The Brill Building Project

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Manhattan’s most famous music address remains best known for the brief period during the late 1950s and early ’60s when young songwriters like Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller, Barry Mann and Burt Bacharach were churning out the pop and R&B hits that defined the era. But Kurt Elling, never one to take the narrow view, argues that the Brill was a vital music hub far longer, from the 1930s to well beyond the heyday of doo-wop and bubblegum. So, again working hand-in-glove with pianist/arranger Laurence Hobgood, Elling serves up “On Broadway,” “You Send Me” and the Coasters’ song-cum-comedy-skit “Shoppin’ for Clothes” (with a spoken-word cameo by Christian McBride as a harried haberdasher), but also reaches back to Duke Ellington’s “Tootie for Cootie” and Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen’s “Come Fly With Me” and forward to Paul Simon’s “American Tune.”

Still, 1619 Broadway is less about breadth than depth, with Elling and Hobgood fully stretching their interpretive muscles. “On Broadway,” lyrically altered to fit a struggling jazz vocalist rather than a woebegone guitarist, is at once contemporary and retro, a modern tale laced with rhythmic hints of beat poets and Esquivel. “Come Fly With Me” takes a 180-degree turn from Sinatra’s mile-high-club treatment, reimagined as an intensely romantic ballad. “American Tune” is immaculately rendered, suggesting the vast majesty of Longfellow’s forest primeval. Most unexpected, and most arresting, is a cacophonous reconstruction of “Pleasant Valley Sunday” that transports Goffin and King’s gimlet-eyed commentary on mid-’60s middle-class smugness to a far darker suburb.

Originally Published