on May 2, 2004
Kurt Elling's become a bit of a critics' darling. I've been wary of him due to my afrocentric aesthetics and my general aversion from vocalists [Betty Carter and Sarah Vaughan the principal exceptions].
Yet I was in Karibu books in Bowie, MD and I heard the track "Resolution" from this CD. I was immediately taken with Kurt's art, and I am in the process of acquiring all of his other CDs. "Man In the Air" was the first one I purchased and I was blown away.
Kurt is an amazing musician first and foremost. He has dead on pitch and the chops to tackle tricky intervals and demanding material. He sings Coltrane's solo to "Resolution" and adds a fresh slant to a classic 'Trane solo. There are countless other beautiful moments on this CD. "Winelight" is a gentle nod at the classic version by Grover Washington. "Time To say Goodbye" is a tender rendition of the Weather Report with Jaco Pastorius classic. "Hidden Jewel" is an ecletic choice of a cover; it's a tune by Bobby Watson.
Kurt Elling is a capable postmodern jazz musician who uses his chops to tackle the repertoire while staying personal and true to himself.
What vaulted this album to 5 star status for me, however, is the romantic, inclusive spirituality of this album. Minuano is a multilayered tale of a woman's longing for a lover?/God?/guru?. And Elling's lyrics to Resolution become a call to praise and worship all gods. Not all listeners will appreciate explicit spiritual expression with their jazz, but I find this to be a risky genuine expression of a musician who is willing to show us his core. An earlier Elling CD I purchased, "The Messenger" had some beat poetry/spoken word elements that interrupted the flow of the album and seemed either tricky or unnecessary. Here, I find Elling's lyrics to be a valuable insight into the music.
Kurt Elling is a major jazz voice right now who goes up there with Kenny Garrett for me on the small list of current jazz musicians who are not merely praising the past, but engaging the tradition to say something personal and new.
5 stars for me, 4 stars for any who disagree with his lyrics [you may want to check these out on kurtelling.com before purchasing the album]
on July 27, 2003
For a jazz horn snob like myself, it's rare for me to rave about any singer, but Elling is the *stuff*. I heard him live last year and have been accumulating his CDs and turning friends onto them ever since.
It's all there on Man in the Year -- Kurt's soaring voice, profound lyrics, clever Laurence Hobgood arrangements and pleasantly diverse material.
Kind of like Marvin Gaye, it's funny that when Kurt isn't singing about love/... ("Winelight"), he's writing lyrics about God/theology ("Resolution", "Higher Vibe", title track). It's some of these theology-based lyrics I find most meaningful. You can see the lyrics on Elling's website.
Kurt's lyrics to Coltrane's "Resolution", are in my opinion a masterpiece. Since this is the first US release of Elling's "Resolution", it should certainly open some eyes, although if you like this version you should try to track down the more intense but less "clean" live version of this song on Live from Chicago: The Out Takes (Australian Blue Note release). The version on Man in the Air seems to suffer from a lack of assertiveness from the drums (how can you remake an Elvin Jones/Trane duo if someone isn't kicking the living #%@% out of the drums?)
Finally, "Time to Say Goodbye" is simply beautiful, and it's not the first time an Elling song has made tears well in my eyes. (He also matches Wayne Shorter's phrasing to a note.)
Elling's appreciation of beauty is truly artistic, and wonderful for his listeners to behold.
on August 15, 2003
As a lifelong Chicagoan and as a person who has heard jazz constantly from local stars and family alike, I have been a Kurt Elling fan since his 1st CD in 1995. This is his best recording, all of his skills are on display and he is in top form. Vocalese is his specialty, taking a previously recorded tune and writing lyrics for that tune that was a hit on its own instrumental right. Songs like my fave Winelight, A Time to Say Goodbye and Never My Love, never sounded better. Laurence Hobgood his collaborater, producer, arranger and pianist is a marvel on the 88 keys and Stefon Harris adds just the right touches on the vibes to make this a celebrated recording. If you want to get a feel of current Chicago and contemporary jazz, get this CD first, then listen to other recordings by Kurt and then check out our other innovative hometown jazz people, Patricia Barber, Ken Vandermark, Grazyna Auguscik, Orbert Davis & Jim Gailloreto, you won't be disappointed or bored.
While not of the highest rank, this is still an excellent CD that will absolutely please Ellings fans and will probably bring him new ones. This release is a little more contemporary and certainly more commercial in style that his last recording, the brilliant "Flirting With Twlight." As always with this artist, his collaboration with pianist Lawrence Hobgood is musical in every way and beautifull refined. Elling himself is in superb voice throughout, as good as he's sounded on record.
The opening track is a real knock-your-socks off surprise, a typical Metheny/Mays collaboration, complete with arpeggiated oepning chords and a vaguely latin beat, given a powerful, thrilling rendition by Elling, with his own superb lyrics. This is the CD at it's best in the commercial sense, a more popular song performed to the utmost. The same holds for his version of "Never My Love," again, lovely in voice and effectively and intriguingly reharmonized. He gets into a pleasantly funky groove on "In the Winelight," but here the lyrics are okay, not to the standard one grows used to with Elling. This is also true of his lyrics to Zawinul's 'A Remark You Made,' here done as "Time To Say Goodbye." This is simply gorgeous, rich music, and the lyric, while capable, doesn't meet the wonderful tune in the same place. But these are minor disappointments, compared with the above mentioned pleasant surprises and the thrill of hearing him sing vocalese to Coltrane's "Resolution," although the real high-point of the recording could be his vocalese to a Bobby Watson piece, "Hidden Jewel," which is a superb performance remeniscent of his "She's Funny That Way." Dig in.
on September 8, 2003
I'm back! Once again I'm here give my opinion of the latest side from..., the master. The great one. Kurt Elling. His new release, Man In The Air is beyond what anyone would have expected, and yet, to those who are hip to this swingin' cat's groove the was no element of surprise. We've all come to expect the unexpected with Kurt. I find this to be one of the hippest records in my collection. Kurt is back with the usual crew of hipsters. Laurence Hobgood on grand piano and Rhodes electric, Rob Amster on bass, and Frank Park on the Drums. Also featuring hip guests, Stefon Harris on vibes, Jim Gailloreto and Brad Wheeler on soprano saxophones, and Elling veteran Paul Wertico on the drums. What stands out most about this record is that 10 out of the 12 cuts have Elling as the lyricist. I could go on and on about this, but I know what you all want to hear. You the usual breakdown of the side and the cuts therein,
1. Minuano vocal version. Originally a Pat Metheny composition, Elling spins some beautiful lyrical magic with a very deep subject matter of love and anticipation. The 6/8 feel is a relaxing trip for the ear, and the harmonies are superb. The solos by saxophonist, Brad Wheeler, and Elling collaborator and pianist, Laurence Hobgood, are of the highest caliber. It also nice to see the guest appearance of Paul Wertico, Elling's original drummer who was on the original recording with Metheny. On a side note, I was at the release concert and Elling opened with this piece. It was perfect. Harmonies and all.
2. In The Winelight. This is probity the most groovin' piece on the record. Enter Stefon Harris on the vibes complimenting Elling lyric to this Grover Washington hit, Winelight, from his side of the name. Stefon is a hip cat in his own right and his presence in greatly welcomed on this side.
3. Resolution. Coltrane anyone? Now those who are hip know this vocalese masterpiece first, from the Live In Chicago Out Takes record. We are now blessed with a studio version of the piece. Elling's spiritual contribution of lyrics is beyond words. This is truly a great song.
4. Time To Say Goodbye. Original title A Remark You Made, by Joe Zawinul of Weather Report. Elling pens a lyric to Wayne Shorters part of the piece that reflects the sadness of saying goodbye, but with wisdom and tenderness of family member of friend who extends his or her arms of comfort as if to say, "It will be alright." And the after thought of, "It was for the best." This song has a very special place in my heart for that reason alone.
5. The Uncertainty Of The Poet. (Doing my best Droopy impression) "Yes, your right. It is silly." However, those who focus on the silliness of the piece are in danger of overlooking the sheer genius of the poem and the masterful arrangement of voices, all of them Kurt Elling's. It's a hip piece.
6. The More I Have You. This is a song that is entirely composed by Elling. To paraphrase His Royal Hippness, "The more I hear, the more I want." His lyric is simple and to the point, yet the way it has been masterfully crafted by Mr. Elling, I doubt any woman could resist. Note to self.... Learn this song!!!
7. Man In The Air. The title cut and it's not even the song about God. This is Elling and Hobgood's tribute to the great Wayne Shorter. Great lyrics and great music. What more can I say.
8. A Secret I. A Herbie Hancock ballad. This lyric by Elling explores life and death and the love the transcends it all. Truly sobering and very beautiful.
9. Higher Vibe. Elling's hip lyrics over Courtney Pine's 12/8 spectacular. The part that stands out to me is the passage in which Elling states, "Everything you do/Everywhere you go/Everyone you know/Is alive and loved and shining in the mind of God." I love that sentiment.
10. Hidden Jewel. Bobby Watson's music with Kurt Elling's lyric of deep human insight. Not much can really be put into words about what this song is saying without quoting it verbatim.
11. Never My Love. Originally recorded by that hip little Motown group The Association. Elling made a great opening remark at his début concert for this side. "This is for all those boyfriend and girlfriends who were drug here saying, 'He ain't gonna play anything I ever heard!'" The new arrangement is hip and fresh while still remaining true to the original spirit.
12. All Is Quiet. Kurt recorded this song several years ago on the Yellowjackets side by the name of Club Nocturne. This time he does it as a duet with the incomparable, magnificent, and ever hip, Laurence Hobgood. Well who did you think he'd do a duet with? I prefer this version, although Club Nocturne is a must have record in my book.
This is perhaps the greatest Elling side yet, but don't take my word for. By a copy and experience it for yourself. God Bless and Keep Swingin'!
on September 20, 2003
Beautiful work. Musically much better than 'Twilight' (though I think 'Twilight' is better lyrically) Standouts are 'Minuano', In the Winelight, 'Time to Say Goodbye'(unbelievably beautiful lyric), and 'Man In the Air'. Kurt continues to go from strength to strength.
I find that some people who have listened to 'Live in Chicago' are not too keen initially on 'Flirting With Twilight' and 'Man In The Air'. 'Live in Chicago' has an energy that gives it a crossover appeal, but jazz lovers will appreciate that different albums have different moods and energies. Sit and listen to each album on it's own merit and you will appreciate what Kurt has done. He's not an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" artist. Kurt constantly raises the bar. Let's hope he never rests on his laurels like other artists have.
Just want to say that, even in the Caribbean, Kurt has fans. I saw him a few years back on 'BET on Jazz'. Five minutes of listening, and I was hooked. I'm hoping that he will eventually be invited to the Barbados Jazz Festival, but failing that...I think I'll have to find my way up to Chicago to hear him live.
Yes, for me, he's THAT good!
on July 23, 2003
Kurt Elling's new cd is simply extraordinary. I got it the first day it came out, and I listened to it 3 times straight through in one day. Some of the highlights on the cd are most certainly the first track. Kurt adds vocals to Pat Metheny's Minuano (six-eight). When i saw this, i thought "oh no....major cheesiness potential". it's quite the opposite. it's possibly the best track on the cd. i've listened to it about 8 or 9 times since yesterday. it's amazing. another great one is Time To Say Goodbye. This was originally's Joe Zawinal's A Remark You Made from Heavy Weather. This song is simply incredibly. In my opinion, the best "break-up song" ever recorded. the message isn't "you left me, i hate you" or "please baby, come back" but the message is one that suggests hope and comes to the realization of fate and making the best of it and knowing you're better off in the end for it. the track brought tears to my eyes. other songs that i can't stop listening to are "the more i have you", "never my love" and "higher vibe". make no mistake...every track on this cd is sooooo good, i'm just mentioning the ones that really stand out to me.
the musicians on this cd make it happen. laurence sounds fabulous as always. rob amster plays absolutely beautifully, i'm very impressed by what he does on this album. frank parker, jr. really sounds great as well. his work complements Kurt's style better than any drummer i could think of. other than those guys, having stefon harris on vibes on the album was SUCH a smart move. he really adds so much to the overall sound, it's just great. also...brad wheeler sounds surprisingly amazing on Minuano. for the rest of the cd, jim gailloreto is brilliant.
This cd is very unique and is, what i think, a true landmark in Kurt's career. It combines the best elements of all his other cds into one masterpiece. It takes the contemporary, modern, innovative sounds of The Messenger (my favorite kurt album, next to this one) with the true spontaneous jazz vibe of his live in chicago album with the honey sweet vocals of "flirting with twilight" and puts them together to make Man in the Air. its a truly beautiful album, and i strongly suggest you buy it. really....it's really really good. no, seriously, it's amazing and you'll love it, i mean it. get it.
on July 25, 2003
Excellent! Elling and Hobgood present not only an expert collaboration, but a sensitive yet bold reading of jazz standards. Elling's treatment of these classic tunes, by having composed lyrics to what have been instrumental mainstays, creates true art; for the lyrics, new to his audience, seem familiar, comfortable, desirable eloquence (like being able to recite the 116th from the Bard of Avon, any time, any place, just because). The listening is sheer joy and immense pleasure as ushered by "Minuano," then carried further still by "In the Winelight." The rest of the play list are something like old friends coming to visit in a new season. Of course the arrangements, helmed by Elling and Hobgood, are the key to this particular magic. Their offering is fresh and new but imbued with their usual, impeccable execution--utterly flawless.
Do not be fooled by the nay-sayers whose predictable and tired plaintive has become to lament over what is essentially Elling's tribute to his masters, and not "some pretentious rehashing of standard jazz fare."
This is an excellent choice, both for newcomers to the music of Kurt Elling, and to his established members of the guild.
My money is on the Academy's recognition for a true Blue Note Expert and Master.
on September 25, 2003
The only thing I would say is missing is a little more "swing" stuff; other than that, it's Kurt's best. And that's saying a lot when you consider his previous recordings. "Man In The Air" is very insightful, spiritual, and (as usual) bears Kurt's romantic side. His lyrical ability is almost flawless (I'm not sure if "Minuano" lyrically states what the original instrumental composer conveyed). Lawrence Hobgood may be the most underrated Jazz pianist out there. A must-have!
on July 24, 2003
As someone who has followed Elling's music for quite some time, this CD is certainly welcome with the rest of them. The lyrical talent of this Jazz master is beyond expression. Give a listen, the words alone are powerful enough to make this an instant classic. The entire recording is filled with all kinds of emotional range (oh yeah, and musical range as well). "Minuano" opens, tricking you into thinking it will be some kind of slow dream. Elling then takes it and runs, producing a song that makes you know, before you hear the rest of the recording, that you will love it. "In the Winelight" is built for wooing women...plain and simple, and it's great. "Resolution" then comes along and reminds us why we should all listen to Coltrane. It's a brilliant piece, which Elling obviously has mastery of, and his lyrics bring amazing amounts of extra energy to it. "Time to Say Goodbye" is wonderfully beautiful in its happy to be sad kind of way. Having experienced such an emotional song, we then find "The Uncertainty of the Poet," a piece I think is both hilarious and stupendous. "The More I Have You" is tremendously exciting, with a killer scat solo from Elling. I could keep going, every song is wonderful, but you really just have to listen for yourself. OH YES! Let's not forget the wonderful musicians working along side Mr. Elling. Laurence Hobgood's piano playing is, as usual, mind-blowing, and the vibes from Stefon Harris. Man, there's just something about the vibes...so haunting, such a round, enduring sound, so great on this recording. Anyway, grab this CD. It is absolutely great. Lastly, see these guys live...live music is always the best music, in my opinion. Trust me.