On Second Thought: Kurt Elling – Man In The Air (2003)

Share this:

by Mark Saleski

There’s a single reason for me owning this disc: Kurt Elling’s cover of Pat Metheny’s “Minuano (Six Eight),” from Still Life (Talking). I thought it’d be interesting to hear vocals added to the song.

But even after several listenings, I still didn’t know what to make of Elling. See, it’s a pretty unusual thing for me to buy jazz vocal music. Hmmm, halfway through that last sentence I realized that I own almost no male jazz vocal material. Yep, thousands of recordings and in there you’ll find no Tony Bennett, Joe Williams, Mel Torme … nothin’. No, wait … I do have a Frank Sinatra cd. Does that get me off the hook?

There’s no good reason for this deficiency … I just don’t enjoy the sound of a male voice in a jazz context. To be honest, I had to really think about picking up Man In The Air. I mean, just take a look at that cover photo. The guy looks like Mike Meyers’ “Deiter” character! Certainly a shallow reason for not buying a record (probably just a weak as picking up that Brigitte Bardot compilation just for the, uhm … artwork).

Anyway, one thing I’ll say is that Elling has a very unique style of vocalese (setting lyrics to melodies and solo segments). There’s a lot of power in his delivery — of a kind that I don’t normally associate with jazz vocals. This isn’t a bad thing. Heck, I don’t really know what it is. As weird as this sounds, this music gave me flashbacks to my Radiohead experience: the stuff is both mesmerizing (initially) and confusing.

There are compositions here by some pretty heavy hitters: Bob Mintzer, Coltrane, Zawinul and Herbie Hancock. Also included is one Elling original (“The More I Have You”). The only flat spot is a cover of “Never My Love” (who did that? The Association?) I can’t put my finger on it … it just doesn’t work.

The lyrics are interesting in that they seem to slide from relative concreteness at one end to stuff that’s more open to interpretation. In fact, I remember wondering what he was getting at during “Minuano.” And then I read the liner notes:

On closer listening some settings present more than one possibility. Is “Minuano” about the excitement one feels coming home to a lover? Or is “Minuano” the song of a lonely spiritual disciple feeling quickened, sensing his guru’s imminent appearance after a long absence? Are the guru and the lover the same person?

The music itself is presented by a fine quintet comprised of Laurence Hobgood (piano and Rhodes electric piano), Rob Amster (bass), Frank Parker Jr. (drums … the linchpin of this group, I think), Sefon Harris (vibes), and Jim Gailloreto (soprano sax). There are also appearances by ex-Metheny drummer Paul Wertico and Brad Wheeler on soprano sax (both on “Minuano”). This is definitely a band that can do the slow, bluesy burn … and then pick it up to swing like mad.

Man In The Air isn’t for everyone. I’m not even sure it’s for me! If anything, it at least made me realize that I’ve gotta go out and get some Tony Bennett records.

[amazon_enhanced asin=”B00009V8VG” container=”” container_class=”” price=”All” background_color=”FFFFFF” link_color=”000000″ text_color=”0000FF” /] [amazon_enhanced asin=”B0011ZYEUA” container=”” container_class=”” price=”All” background_color=”FFFFFF” link_color=”000000″ text_color=”0000FF” /] [amazon_enhanced asin=”B00414WBT4″ container=”” container_class=”” price=”All” background_color=”FFFFFF” link_color=”000000″ text_color=”0000FF” /] [amazon_enhanced asin=”B00280NYVM” container=”” container_class=”” price=”All” background_color=”FFFFFF” link_color=”000000″ text_color=”0000FF” /] [amazon_enhanced asin=”B00003W87S” container=”” container_class=”” price=”All” background_color=”FFFFFF” link_color=”000000″ text_color=”0000FF” /]

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
Share this:
Close