Male jazz vocalists are still a rare breed these days, giving Kurt Elling an edge in terms of visibility, and he deserves it, as heard on his latest. He bows to his mentors, especially Mark Murphy and Frank Sinatra, avoids easy commercial stances, and extends the vocal tradition on his own terms, with song readings spiced with scat-ology, at once soulful, hip, and, where necessary, campy. Elling shows his willingness to wriggle between the cracks of improvisation and the scored melody on a limber interpretation of “My Foolish Heart,” and he later finds new places to take chestnuts “The Very Thought of You” and “She’s Funny That Way,” its melody inventively twisted and massaged. Much of the album relies on the spare setting of a piano trio, with pianist Laurence Hobgood and bassist Rob Amster and drummer Michael Raynor (with a few guest shots from Paul Wertico). But guests pop by. Seasoned jazz violinist Johnny Frigo puts in a juicy cameo on “I Feel So Smoochie,” and guitarist Dave Onderdonk offers his tasteful playing on a few tracks. Elling himself overdubs multiple vocal layers for a syncopated, house-of-mirrors vocal part on “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing.” “Every Time We Say Goodbye” closes the set in a slow, tender brush, moving eloquently from major to minor, from brooding to hope. Musicality is on Elling’s side.
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