Kurt Elling ‘The Gate’ (Concord/Universal) 3/5

Vocalist Kurt Elling is now in the big league of jazz artists and now on his second album with Concord after a critically acclaimed sojourn at Blue Note.

Clearly Elling is being geared up for the wider market and this explains why he tends to focus on this album on more straight ahead delivery on classic and modern standards. However, something has been diluted in the process. For long-term fans there are nonetheless some memorable moments to behold and these include the delightful take on Miles’ seminal ‘Blues in green’ with lyrics added by none other than Al Jarreau. The more experimental side to his repertoire surfaces briefly on ‘Samurai cowboy’ which in some ways is a kind of homage to the vocalese talents of Bobby McFerrin. Of the standards, Joe Jackson’s ‘Steppin’ out’ is an excellent take on the 1980s pop-jazz song while Earth. Wind and Fire’s ‘After the love has gone’ is a surprise candidate for inclusion, nonetheless yet works wonderfully well even minus the trademark horns. On the minus side, Stevie Wonder’s ‘Golden lady’ sounds flat and adds nothing to the original while ‘Norwegian wood’ has simply been sampled far too often in the recent past for it’s own good. This is an ultimately frustrating listening experience given the unquestioned talents Kurt Elling has at his disposal and one wishes he were not forced to be pigeonholed into any easy listening category since he is in fact a musical sculptor who needs the free reign. If you really want Elling to reach a wider audience, then it is necessary to provide that audience with a visual as well as oral illustration of his craft. A live CD/DVD would go a long way to educating the audience on the totality of Kurt’s vocal skills.

Tim Stenhouse