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Kurt Elling: Nightmoves

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Kurt Elling

If there is a royal bloodline of male jazz singers, I’d suggest it progresses from Satchmo to Mel Tormé to Jon Hendricks to Mark Murphy to Kurt Elling. After Elling (who, still a few months shy of his 40th birthday, may long reign), a cyclonic puree of all the princes who’ve preceded him, the throne may well remain vacant. Oh, there are plenty of clever jazz lads around with noble ambitions, Jamie Cullum and Ian Shaw high among them, but none who show any sign of trumping (or even echoing) Elling’s kaleidoscopic amalgam of gifts.

Elling’s ascent began in the early ’90s when, legend has it, the divinity-school dropout sent a demo tape to Blue Note and was offered a contract. From the outset, it was clear that the innately hip Chicagoan was determined to be an envelope-pushing revolutionary. As early as his studio debut, 1995’s Close Your Eyes, the ingredients of genius were evident, with deep romanticism running headlong into intellectual inquisitiveness (Rilke, Proust and San Francisco poet Kenneth Rexroth figuring prominently) and keen awareness of all jazz brethren (witness vocalese masterpieces built upon Wayne Shorter, Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond; a mere prelude to even bolder embraces, on subsequent discs, of Charlie Parker and Miles Davis), all underscored by a delightful sense of humor. Indeed, as Elling’s Blue Note career erupted with another five albums, culminating in 2003’s seismic Man In the Air, he emerged-as performer, interpreter and songwriter-as the hybrid jazz equivalent of Lord Byron, Allen Ginsberg, William Faulkner and Matt Groening. Then, apart from a handful of guest appearances, the recordings stopped, with Elling pursuing other professional interests, including a nonpareil vocal summit with Murphy, Hendricks and Kevin Mahogany for intercontinental tours as the Four Brothers. Now, having parted ways with Blue Note and signed with Concord, Elling is back with Nightmoves, an album that, building upon everything he has previously recorded, rivals even Air in its magnificence.

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