"Vocalese" is a jazz technique in which lyrics are added to instrumental tunes to convey a certain idea or feeling. Its origins can be traced to the Twenties, but it really came into vogue later, in the Fifties and beyond. And it is Kurt Elling's passion. The Chicago-based musician develops the sound through the influence of predecessors like Eddie Jefferson and John Hendricks. "There have been some who have tried it, but vocalese hasn't been widely broadcast," he says by phone before a recent gig in St. Louis. "I'm not quite sure why, because it's a fine form with a lot of possibilities."
On his latest release, Nightmoves (Concord), Elling and musical partner Laurence Hobgood set out to create the soundtrack to a feature film that ultimately didn't come to fruition. Elling and his band went into the studio anyway, and emerged with an album that is a mixture of the different sounds and textures they had been researching at the time. In one of the disc's most notable moments, Elling combines Irving Berlin's "Change Partners" with Antonio Carlos Jobim's "If You Never Came to Me," borrowing from the Klaus Ogerman arrangement of the Brazilian composer's song as performed by Sinatra and Jobim on their 1967 collaboration. He also pays further tribute to the maestro (who would have turned 80 this year) through a Portuguese-language rendition of "Luiza," a tune he loves so much he named his daughter after it.
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For his residence at Sandoval's, Elling will be backed by Hobgood (piano), Rob Atkins (bass), and Kobie Watkins (drums). Some surprise guests from the Miami jazz scene might also make an appearance. Says Elling: "We will be mixing stuff up, covering all the material from previous discs."