Album Remarks & Appraisals:
One of the most important saxophonists of our time, Branford Marsalis, and leading jazz vocalist Kurt Elling collaborate on a full album for the first time. Upward Spiral features great songs from a broad range of influential artists including Nat King Cole, Abbey Lincoln, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Sting and more. Marsalis and Elling will be touring the U.S. later this year - more dates to be scheduled.
Legendary jazz greats Branford Marsalis and Kurt Elling collaborate for the first time on a full album, Upward Spiral. They've been talking for a while about making a record together, and finally at the end of 2015 it all came together. They found time to play the new material in the New Orleans Snug Harbor club for four days and then recorded a variety of songs in the studio, all chosen because of their melodic richness and musical quality. Their versions of the chosen material are simply incredible, as the musicality of Branford and Kurt and their deep understanding of these songs shows through immediately.
National Endowment of the Arts Jazz Master, renowned Grammy Award®-winning saxophonist and Tony Award® nominated composer Branford Marsalis is one of the most revered instrumentalists of our time. Having gained initial acclaim through his work with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers and his brother Wynton's quintet in the early 1980s, Branford has performed and recorded with a who's-who of jazz giants including Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Herbie Hancock and Sonny Rollins. He has also collaborated with such diverse artists as Sting, the Grateful Dead and Bruce Hornsby. His expansive interests are further reflected in his explorations in film, radio and television, including his role as the musical director of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
Grammy® winner Kurt Elling is among the world's foremost jazz vocalists. He won the DownBeat Critics Poll for fourteen consecutive years and was named Male Singer of the Year by the Jazz Journalists Association on eight occasions. An international jazz award winner, the New York Times declared, "Elling is the standout male vocalist of our time." The Washington Post added, "Since the mid-1990s no singer in jazz has been as daring, dynamic or interesting as Kurt Elling. He has come to embody the creative spirit in jazz."
Personnel: Branford Marsalis (saxophone); Joey Calderazzo (piano); Justin Faulkner (drums).
Recording information: Ellis Marsalis Center for Music, New Orleans, LA.
Titans of modern jazz in their own rights, saxophonist Branford Marsalis and vocalist Kurt Elling bring their immense strengths together on their sophisticated and nuanced collaboration, 2016's Upward Spiral. Perhaps not the first time Marsalis has showcased a vocalist on a recording, it is the first time he's worked exclusively with one singer throughout an entire album. While the album never feels dated or retro, it fits nicely into the tradition of vocalist and instrumentalist collaborations like 1961's Nancy Wilson & Cannonball Adderley and 1963's classic John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman. Like those albums, Upward Spiral is less an album featuring a singer backed by a jazz ensemble, and more of an album that details the meeting of two highly creative artists whose talents intertwine to find new avenues of expression. Joining in the creative process here is Marsalis' longtime rhythm section featuring pianist Joey Calderazzo, bassist Eric Revis, and drummer Justin Faulkner. Despite the high level of mastery on display, Marsalis and Elling don't overthink the proceedings and simply stick to a thoughtfully curated batch of covers and originals. This gives the album the feel of like-minded artists communing over a shared love and appreciation of each song. Some cuts, like the breezy Gershwin number "There's a Boat Dat's Leavin' Soon for New York" and the swinging, off-kilter Sonny Rollins composition "Doxy," sound like pick-up jams chosen in the moment. Others, like Chris Whitley's "From One Island to Another," and the Marsalis and Elling co-write "Cassandra Song," have a theatrical, impressionistic flow born out of the duo's thoughtful arranging. They split the difference on "I'm a Fool to Want You," transforming Frank Sinatra's torchy standard into a mournful, yet somehow still playful duet. Elsewhere, they delve into a languid melodicism on Antonio Carlos Jobim's "So Tinha de Ser Com Voce," make room for spoken word poetry on "Momma Said," and deliver what is certainly one of the most delicate and otherworldly readings of "Blue Velvet." Primarily, Upward Spiral finds Elling and Marsalis communicating through song, both of them offering tactile, well-organized performances that linger in your mind. ~ Matt Collar
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