Half Notes: Kurt Elling – The Gate (2011)

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Up until the year 2003, I had successfully avoided Kurt Elling. This wasn’t all that hard to do considering that male jazz vocals never really resonated with me. I do own a Coltrane/Hartman record, and of course some Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. Still, only a handful of albums? It does reveal my level of interest — a level that took a slight uptick upon the 2003 release of Man In The Air, with an interpretation of Pat Metheny‘s “Minuano.” I was intrigued, if not necessarily sold. The Gate had me again with a one-song draw: a cover of King Crimson‘s “Matte Kudasai.” It’s definitely one of Crimson’s prettier melodies and Elling amplifies the tune’s bittersweet vibe (“She sleeps in a chair/In her sad America…”) with subtlety and power.

Produced by Don Was with a supporting cast including such luminaries as John Pattitucci on bass and Bob Minzer on tenor, The Gate finds Elling living comfortably in several genres — the skittering funk of “Samurai Cowboy,” the full-on swing of Joe Jackson’s “Steppin’ Out,” the modern run through “Norwegian Wood,” with a surprisingly twisty guitar solo turned in by John McLean. Throughout the program, Elling’s command of textures and dynamics is just stunning. How did I not notice this before? I feel some remedial music shopping coming on.

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Half Notes is a quick-take music feature on Something Else! Reviews, presented whenever the mood strikes us.

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he originated several of our weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Mark Saleski
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