1619 Broadway The Brill Building Project is the Kurt Elling release I have been waiting for. Perhaps the release captivates my attention due to the song selection, perhaps the certain air of musical mystery that surrounds what has been called the single most important creative ground for popular music in the western world. Maybe my appreciation for music history qualifies my facination for a place I have never seen. For reasons I don't still fully understand, Kurt Elling seems to cast a wide net and with material that transcends genre and at times adapts to the jazz idiom with amazing subtlety to the point this release should vault Elling well ahead of the jazz vocal pack be they male or female artists. All ready considered the foremost jazz male vocalist this amazing release allows Elling the opportunity to assume the role of the musical chameleon of artistic innovation and thus raise the bar most vocalist seem content to continue to limbo under. While having previously paid homage to his hometown of Chicago, Elling and his family have resided in Manhattan since 2008 and 1619 Broadway is his take on that experience. A bold move and roll of the dice for this Grammy winning singer and lyricist who has earned a Grammy nomination for each of his nine recordings - a streak unmatched in Grammy history!
For the uninitiated a maze of offices and closet like studios at 1619 Broadway, in the heart of Manhattan, the legendary Brill Building while at its peak served as the creative ground zero for more than 160 tenants associated with the pop-music industry. The collection here is slightly eclectic yet amazingly accessible while avoiding some of the more shop worn standards of Cole Porter and Rodgers and Hart. Some tunes on the release were recorded by the original artist after leaving the Brill Building (Carol King ) but there is an unmistakable "Brill Sound" that seems to unite these tunes together. Elling joins forces with longtime collaborator and phenomenal arranger Laurence Hobgood with an end result being a musical happy place for those listeners that feel they may otherwise be stuck in what a refer to as musical no man's land. A listener that may be intimidated by jazz but is tired of dated adult contemporary while not exactly ready for the rocking chair and Henry Mancini either.
Tunes such as "On Broadway" and "You Send Me" are ambient reharmonizations of exciting new rhythms that are a mirror image of the pulse of a city. A sonic microcosm of work distilled through an amazing jazz filter of harmonic sensibility finds "A House Is Not A Home" as one of the artistic triumphs of the release and should have incredible cross over potential along with numerous other tunes featured including "I Only Have Eyes For You" and the Carol King classic "So Far Away." Jazz traditionalists or as I refer to them as the pseudo-intellectuals that believe buying a certain release can elevate an I.Q. a certain number of points based on name or style despite having no real working knowledge of the music may raise an eyebrow at a more pop based release despite the overwhelming jazz sensibilities. These cultural throwbacks should remember in the days of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, they were playing the "pop" music of the day. The more things change the more they stay the same.
Music has long been a sanctuary for me as it has been for millions. While I still occasionally play my first instinct as a writer is to look at music if not life itself as a series or sequence of logical if not mathematical events. When these events align themselves in the proper order we find magic as is the case of the history of 1619 Broadway. The London Telegraph refered to 1619 Broadway as "the most important generator of popular songs in the western world" and the location continues to inspire long after the glory days have past and it continues as an amazing influence for the future. A building is made of man made materials, a singer becomes a story teller when he is made of an artistic soul held together by the very tradition 1619 Broadway represents.
The true sign of an artist is when covering another artist, they raise the original tune to another level. Kurt Elling and Laurence Hobgood have paid fitting tribute to the past by pushing forward an amazing new sound for the future. Kurt Elling is indeed an artist! When an artist takes a critic from "like" to "fan" that is pretty cool.
Tracks: On Broadway; Come Fly With Me; You Send Me; I Only Have Eyes For You; I'm Satisfied; A House Is Not A Home; Shoppin' For Clothes; So Far Away; Pleasant Valley Sunday; An American Tune; Tootie For Cootie.
Photographs with special thanks to Concord Music Group and Photographer Anna Webber.