Wed, 1 July 2009
It takes a bold man to attempt a tribute album to one of the best loved and most unique albums in jazz history. The 1963 session between the John Coltrane's Classic Quartet and journeyman singer Johnny Hartman has become the stuff of legend, and for this reviewer's ears, remains the best collaboration between a singer and major instrumentalist in jazz history.
Kurt Elling is that bold, however, and we are the luckier for it. The rich baritoned singer from Chicago, backed by strings and his longtime piano playing partner Laurence Hobgood, has shown with Dedicated to You that it is possible to record music associated closely with another artist, and turn it into your own.
All six tracks that graced the orginal album are performed here, along with a five songs recorded by Coltrane on his classic 1962 album Ballads. The material is perfect for Elling, a master of using all aspects of his range to bring across a song, sometimes in one phrase. His version of "Lush Life", for example, takes a slighter slower pace than the original, and stretches out some words, while moving from lower to upper range in one line, all to great dramatic effect. Hopgood's piano is also worth noting here, deviating from the more traditional approach McCoy Tyner took forty-five years ago.
Elling tells the story of the sessions in his poem "A Poetic Jazz Memory", which merges with "It's Easy to Remember". This serves to set the scene extremely well, and reminds us how grat art can appear when we least expect it, when talent, material and timing all merge.
The string section adds much to the material as well. From the pizzicato opening to the title track, or the coloring added to "Lush Life" and especially "My One and Only Love", these arrangements swirl around Elling and show another side to the familiar material. Only the Coltrane quartet backed Hartman on the original.
Ernie Watts joins Elling on saxophone, and while his playing is more than acceptable, he plays it far too safe to stand in Trane's shoes. The sole instrumental on the album, "What's New", gives Watts a chance to show his stuff, but he never really shows the kind of playing he contribtued to Charlie Haden's Quartet West.
Dedicated to You won't ever replace the warmth and intimacy that John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman still bring every time it's played, but it doesn't try to. Instead, it joins CD's like Karrin Allyson's Ballads: Remembering John Coltrane and Branford Marsalis' Coltrane's A Love Supreme as current artists winningly taking the classic music of John Coltrane and making of it not only tribute, but triumph.
Category:general -- posted at: 3:19am EDT