KURT ELLING | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

KURT ELLING 

In polls and reviews, readers and critics have converged to name Kurt Elling the most accomplished male jazz vocalist of his generation. So now it comes down to how good he'll ultimately become--a question only partly answered on the new Nightmoves, due April 3 on Concord. The disc brims with his best pure singing yet: he brings exuberant command to Betty Carter's "Tight" and focused restraint to a setting of the Whitman poem "The Sleepers." And on its many ballads his musicianship--intonation, dynamics, ornamentation--proudly challenges that of past pop and jazz giants. Yet the overall arc, from the treacly title tune (almost redeemed by Elling's sinuous baritone and gimlet phrasing) to Duke Ellington's emotionally uplifting "I Like the Sunrise," feels more tortuous than flowing. The range and ambition that drives Elling to write soaring lyrics to historic horn solos (like his excellent adaptation here of Dexter Gordon's 1976 "Body and Soul") can prove counterproductive when it comes to packing his ideas into an effectively paced album. But those same qualities help him create the most consistently grand concert performances any singer or audience could want--especially for high-stakes shows like this record-release event. The Laurence Hobgood Trio, Howard Levy, and Jim Gailloreto & the Hawk String Quartet open. a 7:30 PM, Park West, 322 W. Armitage, 773-929-5959 or 312-559-1212, $25. A

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