It’s stretch your ears time with the new Kurt Elling album “SuperBlue” which finds him moving into new directions. Moving again, you might add since he has come up with so many different projects in his career. But he never released a full-length funk album. Until now. With the help of guitarist Charlie Hunter, who also produced the album, and Butcher Brown members DJ Harrison (keyboards) and Corey Fonville (drums and percussion), Kurt has come up with a great collection of originals and covers. Starting with the title track, written by Bernard Ighner and recorded by Freddie Hubbard in 1978 for an album of the same name (featuring Kenny Barron), the spicy funk is here to stay from the first bars. Kurt added lyrics to the track, as he does on several more here, interpolating poems here and there – a feature which he also used on former albums as well.
Remember “The Offbeat Of Avenues” by The Manhattan Transfer? The 1991 LP featured a brilliant funk/swing track, a dedication to Sarah Vaughan called “Sassy” which the group here excellently covers in a more upfront, in your face, and still pretty funky version. But I think the group really excels with their collaborative works on this album. My personal favorite is an incredibly grooving and falsetto-fied “Manic Panic Epiphanic” where Kurt really stretches out and proves again why he is among the most important and curious jazz singers around. It’s a fascinating tune.
Really amazing and typical Kurt stuff is his cover of the Wayne Shorter piece “Aung San Suu Kyi” (recorded on the 1997 album “1+1” with Herbie Hancock), where he includes a poet by Charles Twitchell and thus, transforming it into a meditative paean, hauntingly beautiful. Kurt turns the Cody Chesnutt track “The Seed” down to a more subtle, soulful, less urgent number. A perfect match and a perfect fit. The powerful, collective groove sound comes to the fore on the original “Dharma Burns”, with Kurt’s vocal prowess in full effect on this ode to Jack Kerouac. And Allen Ginsberg of course. The tour de force “Circus”, originally written by Tom Waits, is a spoken word meets Funk powerhouse.
The only slow and tender track on offer is the wonderful, contemplative Carla Bley tune “Lawns”, recorded for her 1987 “Sextet” LP. With new lyrics and now called “Endless Lawns”, Kurt had already recorded the piece for his 2018 album “The Questions”, with a trumpet solo by Marquis Hill. This sincerely beautiful tune is resurrected here with a peacefully meandering beat. Hard to resist. And finally, the group is jamming out the album with a short “This Is How We Do”.
A vinyl version of the album will be available October 18th. Blue vinyl of course. The cover is an eye catcher too.