SuperBlue – Kurt Elling & Charlie Hunter: The Iridescent Spree

Singer, guitarist and band present originals and covers of such as Joni Mitchell and Ornette Coleman in a variety of funk-driven settings


If Bob Dorough is possibly the only songwriter to have made a tune out of a maths lesson, as he does on the intriguingly titled Naughty Number Nine, maybe only Kurt Elling could turn its nine-times table into a wailing blues over a lazy triple-time rhythm. He does so after a couple of numbers where the funky backbeat might seem rather monotonous. However, Corey Fonville is evidently a drummer who knows the kit is pleading with him to do much more, if minimally.

As a foundation for Elling’s soaring vocal on Joni Mitchell’s Black Crow and the Elling/Phil Galdston lyrics on Don Was’s Freeman Square, especially where at the start the singer lengthens the syllables behind the drumbeat, the backbeat is probably the appropriate device. The latter number is also a good example of Elling’s Jon Hendricks-meets-rap style of vocalising, where the voice is foregrounded after that initial intro and the Huntertones Horns – trumpet, sax and trombone – help DJ Harrison’s keyboards swell the sound.

Elling’s voice is in fine shape. The sinuous lines, the declarative outbursts and the shimmering vibrato are all of a piece. Even his recitation of Billy Collins’s poem The Afterlife in the album’s concluding track of that name is hypnotic and could at any moment have burst into formal trilling.

The outstanding song is Only The Lonely Woman, an Ornette Coleman chart to which Elling has added lyrics conceived as a warm-hearted lament for an individual whom “men sold and bought” and which Fonville underlines with a quietly martial rat-tat-tat. Nate Smith’s Bounce It has self-referential Elling words that justifiably celebrate the Elling-Charlie Hunter duo and the slow Elling-Hunter original, Little Fairy Carpenter, is marked by rising phrases of faultless intonation.

Discreet instrumentals enjoin buoyant vocals. Super album.

Black Crow; Freeman Square; Naughty Number Nine; Little Fairy Carpenter; Bounce It; Only The Lonely Woman; Right About Now; Not Here/Not Now; The Afterlife (41.12)
Collectively: Elling (v); Hunter (g); Elena Pinderhughes (f); DJ Harrison (kyb); Corey Fonville (d); Huntertones Horns: Jon Lampley (t), Dan White (s, arr), Chris Ott (tb). Chicago, Virginia, February 2022.
Edition EDN 1218