1619 Broadway: The Brill Building Project
Kurt Elling’s Wellington performance last year was stunning; a treat to finally see him perform and to see him embody a range of songs live. That’s what he does when he sings. He gets inside the songs and builds a new home, gives them a new shape, but he and the audience feel comfortable with the new shape straight away. And that’s all the remarkable when you realise, as each song builds, that he’s doing a lot to them and inside them; these are significant – sometimes baffling – reworkings of the tune.
Here with his Broadway-inspired collection Elling makes classic pop tunes into R’n’B-inflected jazz, from On Broadway and Come Fly With Me to You Send Me and I Only Have Eyes For You he takes the idea of a standards/covers album and flips it on its side.
A House Is Not A Home, Pleasant Valley Sunday and Paul Simon’s An American Tune are my current favourites – highlights. But he doesn’t put a foot wrong really; that huge, gorgeous, perfectly controlled voice, a kick-ass band, sharp arrangements.
I’ve been an Elling fan for a while and I think this is one of his finest albums – and one of his most accessible, given the familiarity of the tunes. He manages, in that magic-act way he has, to create versions of these classic pop tunes that are both radical reworkings and faithful-feeling (but bold) interpretations. It’s a skill that I think only Elling has. And you believe him too. Every time. He’s not just flexing his muscles, not just showing off. (Of course he’s always doing that too). He’s there. Inside these songs. Giving them his all. Giving all of himself to the listener.
He is Frank Sinatra and Joe Jackson and Nina Simone all rolled into one. And yet he is more than that. He offers more than all of that. He is Kurt Elling. He is masterful, quite likely a genius. And he shows no sign of slowing, no likelihood of phoning it in, no contempt or complacency, no boundaries still.