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Flirting With Twilight (2001)

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Marc Johnson

Who but Kurt Elling would open a ballads album by singing a Charlie Haden bass solo? It's a typically ambitious move, transforming "Moonlight Serenade," Glenn Miller's perennial slow-dance favorite, into a hip, smoky ode. Elling is a distinctive vocalist, endowed with true musicianship: Listen as he sticks to his band like glue on the very slow tempo of "Lil' Darlin'." That's not easy. Laurence Hobgood, Elling's longtime musical partner, plays outstanding piano throughout and crafts subtle horn arrangements on several tracks. Bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Peter Erskine illuminate the session as well. The horn section -- trumpeter Clay Jenkins, alto saxophonist Jeff Clayton, and tenor saxophonist Bob Sheppard -- is heard to greatest effect on the closing "While You Are Mine" and the beginning of "Detour Ahead." Some of the songs, like Stephen Sondheim's "Not While I'm Around" (from Sweeney Todd), come out sounding a bit bland. But among the best is "Orange Blossoms in Summertime," based on a Curtis Lundy tune, during which Elling executes a harmonized ensemble passage with the horns and holds a climactic long note at the end. Other highlights include the bouncy 6/8 take on "Easy Living" and the drum-and-vocal opening of "I'm Through With Love." While Flirting With Twilight lacks the breadth of a record like The Messenger, it's still a worthy statement from Elling, who shows yet again that vocal jazz can be more than just easy listening. (The U.S. release contains a hidden track, the old Marlene Dietrich vehicle "Je Tire Ma Révérence," which Elling sings in French, backed only by Marc Johnson.) ~ David R. Adler