Kurt Elling

Released July 22, 2003

Grammy Nominee for Best Jazz Vocal Album 2004

Prix du Jazz Vocal de l’Académie du Jazz 2003

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bbAZdz3abEY&list=OLAK5uy_mBvqMjL9SOSbc2ATz9U14DflZPNpecBY0

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/album/47gxm5NMKuJiQuG5yt5S37?si=dGYrN8KMSya9wklIip0kjw


We really tried to plant a flag with this record. We started with a few compositions (the aforementioned “Minuano”, “Resolution” and “A Secret I”) and a sonic idea – our trio and Stefon Harris. I knew Stefon’s work from his own Blue Note recordings. His protean compositional sensibility, firey, headlong and always hyper-articulate playing style was something I wanted to engage to create a wholly new atmosphere. Of course the most important was his sound. Thankfully, Stefon was also fired up about playing with us.

I feel that we did what we came to do. I am very proud of this record. I stand behind the writing and the performances. Of course, there are always things I’d like to have played better. I’m always frustrated about that & probably always will be. But it’s a solid modern jazz record with a point of view and something to say. In most ways, I think Man In The Air speaks for itself, which is why I want to take the opportunity at this point to write more fully about the contributions Laurence and Rob have made to our mutual success. For although record labels sign “Kurt Elling” to recording contracts, they are hugely fortunate that signing Kurt Elling means getting Laurence Hobgood and Rob Amster as well.

Laurence Hobgood is a deeply gifted artist. His musical concept is broad, precise and flexible. It is orchestral. Because he is a deep thinker, his music is profound. Because he is childlike and free in his imagination it is filled with surprise and wonder. Because he feels deeply it plays powerfully on the listener’s emotions. Since he is also a technical master of the instrument Laurence is instantly able to translate emotion into marvelous and resonant sounds. His delivery is sparkling-clear and super-vivid. He is solid state. There is no way any of “my” records would have reached whatever sonic heights they have without Laurence’s focus, direction and dedicated partnership.

I must also compliment and thank Rob Amster for his integral contributions to all of these recordings. Rob and I have worked on music together since well before the Blue Note and even before Laurence and I began working. (And believe me, we worked some very strange gigs together early on.) Throughout, Rob has been the steady musical pulse that has time and again kept an over-achieving (ie, too-many-note-playing) front line from careering off the rails. He has helped Laurence and me many times to edit arrangements-in-progress (those Latin kicks on “Never Say Goodbye” are entirely his). I have a great respect for Rob’s day-to-day connection to musical study. Rob fits the definition of a solid, chops-laden, working musician. He works constantly to conquer his instrument and play music. He succeeds.

The creative companionship of these two strong-willed and generous artists has proved crucial to the relative success of this venture. Thanks to Laurence and Rob I have an apprenticeship in music even while being a bandleader. Ideas that have come to me half-formed and sometimes half-baked have been completed and refined as we have worked on them together. Even in my most fleshed-out strategies and detailed plans I make certain to leave space for each of them to shine as the great improvising artists they are – knowing that they will exceed whatever great expectations I have in mind. They support and encourage me. They put up with the vagaries of the road just like I do, but without all the extra attention I get as the front man. They are ready to go down just about any old rabbit hole I think might hold something special – and they often have to remind me of the way out again.

I was teaching a master class recently and a question came from one of the students about what a singer should be doing on a gig when he/she is not singing and someone else is soloing. It is a natural question for a young person to ask, I suppose, but it came as a surprise to me. What should you be doing? It’s kind of absurd, isn’t it? If you are the singer and you have a killing band you have the best seats of anyone in any performance space in the world!

What should you do? You should listen to the band.

Kurt Elling

Track Listing:

1. Minuano (Kurt Elling / Lyle Mays / Pat Metheny) 7:55

2. In the Winelight (William Eaton / Kurt Elling / Phil Gladston) 6:40

3. Resolution (John Coltrane / Kurt Elling) 6:53

4. Time to Say Goodbye (Kurt Elling / Joe Zawinul) 6:43

5. The Uncertainty of the Poet 1:09

6. The More I Have You (Kurt Elling) 3:38

7. Man in the Air (Kurt Elling / Laurence Hobgood) 5:32

8. A Secret I (Kurt Elling / Herbie Hancock) 6:24

9. Higher Vibe 6:37

10. Hidden Jewel (Kurt Elling) 5:45

11. Never My Love (Dick Addrisi / Don Addrisi) 3:42

12. All Is Quiet (Kurt Elling / Bob Mintzer) 6:28


Kurt Elling: vocals

Laurence Hobgood: piano and Rhodes electric piano

Bob Amster: bass

Frank Parker, Jr.: drums and percussion

Stefon Harris: vibes

Jim Gailloreto: soprano sax

Paul Wertico: drums (1)

Brad Wheeler: soprano sax (1)

Recorded January 13, 2003 – January 17, 2003, at Chicago recording Company

Produced by Kurt Elling and Laurence Hobgood with Bill Traut

Arrangements and Adaptations by Laurence Hobgood with Kurt Elling

Recorded by Dan Garcia

Assistant Engineer: Dennis Tousana, Eddie Davis

Mixed by Al Schmitt

Photography by Jeff Sciortino


Kurt Elling has finally delivered on the potential promised on his 1997 album The Messenger. It is true that Elling has been terrifically consistent in his offerings with very inspired performances– even if the material and its execution were not nearly as adventurous as that storied earlier recording. But Man in the Air is the extension of all the wandering risk of The Messenger. Here Elling and his regular band — pianist Laurence Hobgood, bassist Rob Amster, and drummer Frank Parker Jr. — are joined by current vibe king Stefon Harris and Jim Gailloreto on soprano saxophone. The program is a regal selection of compositions by Pat Metheny (“Minuano”), John Coltrane (“Resolution”), Bob Mintzer (“All Is Quiet”), Josef Zawinul (“Time to Say Goodbye”), Herbie Hancock (“A Secret I”), and others, including his bandmates, with lyrics added by Elling. While this may on initial impression seem shocking or even sacrilegious, the result is anything but. In fact, Elling is one one of the few mainstream jazz artists out there currently trying to extend the reach of this music, and to expand it as an artform in an age when reactionary neo-traditionalism is killing it, not only in terms of evolution but in the marketplace, too. From the sultry feel of “In the Winelight,” with Hobgood’s sweet, nocturnal electric piano and Elling’s phrasing, seductive without sentiment, to Coltrane’s “Resolution,” with its wildly syncopated delivery and lyrics that introduce the cosmic to its underside and reconciles all major religious figures to the planet Earth as well as the cosmos, it is obvious that Elling’s accomplishment is in making the composer accessible to the listener in a new way. Elling’s grasp of Trane’s metaphysics and his modalism is rapturous, knotty, and it charges for the boundaries. Consider, however, that Elling and his crew are able to translate Zawinul’s gorgeous ballad into a pastoral and elegiac scene of aural cinemarife with lush nuances and metonymic devices. The title track by Hobgood and Elling is among the most beautiful things on the recording. Here are two musicians who understand one another on every subtle level. Hobgood is a criminally under-recognized pianist. His sense of harmonic architecture and melodic invention are among the most innovative of the current grown-up generation of jazz players, and his allowance for space and nuance acts as a perfect foil for Elling’s rigorous restructuring of intervals and cadences. This mid-tempo and euphoric exercise in jazz poesy is remarkable for its lyrical invention and shimmering choruses. Most importantly, Man in the Air is not a “fusion” record. It is a jazz record that comes from the heart of its great vocal tradition and extends it without running over it or tossing it aside in favor of the empty postmodern construct of “the new.” What has always been lasting about the introduction of new directions in jazz is how it uses the tradition in order to make it deeper and wider. Man in the Air certainly does so with verve, grace, adventure, and consummate skill. This is Elling’s finest moment thus far and is easily a candidate for one of the finest albums of 2003.

Thom Jurek (AllMusic)