Kurt Elling: SuperBlue

Vocal virtuoso turns from the classics to funk plus beats-propelled grooves provided by Charlie Hunter, DJ Harrison and Corey Fonville

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The master of bebop, hardbop and postbop vocalising has released a funk plus beats-propelled album. SuperBlue shouldn’t be confused with his earlier effort SuperGlue, on the Self-Adhesive label – but the wicket he plays on is equally sticky.

The new album features keyboards-player DJ Harrison and drummer Corey Fonville from hip-hop/groove band Butcher Brown; Charlie Hunter co-produces and contributes stylish guitar fills.

In their Virginia studio, Fonville and Harrison met with Hunter to work on grooves and textures; at home in Chicago, Elling then decided which new or existing compositions were appropriate. He got together with Hunter in a converted barn in Urbana, Illinois, to record vocal and guitar tracks and finalise the mix.

SuperBlue includes originals, and new interpretations of jazz compositions by Wayne Shorter and Freddie Hubbard. The title track is an excellent vocal interpretation of Freddie Hubbard’s memorable late-70s fusion hit, though I could live without the vocoder treatment. Its funk groove – as one writer comments – is reminiscent of Sly Stone.

Elling gives an impression of four vocalists in his interpretation of Manhattan Transfer’s Sassy, their 1991 tribute to Sarah Vaughan. Manic Panic Epiphanic features Elling’s falsetto, and concludes attractively with a minimal groove. The plangent Where To Find It, with its hypnotic riff, modulates attractively in groove and feel but then, sadly, fades out.

But other tracks don’t really match them. The problem may be a Covid-era one, in that bass and drum tracks were recorded separately. But this is an interesting new direction by a major vocalist.

Discography
SuperBlue; Sassy; Manic Panic Epiphanic; Where To Find It; Can’t Make It With Your Brain; The Seed; Dharma Bums; Circus; Endless Lawns; This Is How We Do (49.16)
Elling (v); Charlie Hunter (g); DJ Harrison (kyb); Corey Fonville (d). Richmond, Virginia and Chicago, 19 October 2020 to 13 February 2021.
Edition EDN1174