Kurt Elling charts new path with funky, groovy SuperBlue

On the heels of winning his second Grammy Award this year, preeminent jazz vocalist Kurt Elling is returning with an album that finds him in new musical territory.

While Elling’s past projects have explored the musical worlds of bebop, traditional pop, progressive jazz and neo-soul, SuperBlue marks his first foray into full-on funk.

With producer and guitarist Charlie Hunter at the helm, Elling is joined by drummer Corey Fonville and bassist and keyboardist DJ Harrison, both of the genre-hopping band Butcher Brown.

SuperBlue features Elling’s own original songs along with fresh takes on compositions by jazz legends Wayne Shorter and Freddie Hubbard, a stripped-down treatment of Cody Chestnutt and a groovy version of a Tom Waits tune.

Ahead of the album’s release this fall, Elling has shared the groovy first single, Sassy.

Elling has yet to meet the members of Butcher Brown in person; the collaboration happened across a distance of about 1,000 miles between Fonville and Harrison’s studio in Virginia and Elling’s home in Chicago. Once the instrumentals were finished, Elling and Hunter recorded the vocal and solo guitar tracks at a converted barn in Urbana, Ill., to complete the album.

“For those gifted young cats to give me the trust, and to vibe with me and be so enthusiastic about this project, is a great compliment,” Elling says of Fonville and Harrison. “It’s enlivening and even rejuvenating in the truest sense of the word. I haven’t been paying as much attention to the groove-oriented stuff that younger cats have been developing, except in a cursory fashion — not because I don’t like it, but because I’ve been focused for so long on learning from cats like Prez and Wayne and Dexter Gordon. I feel like Joe Square-Britches coming into this stuff.”

“I’ve loved Kurt’s music since high school,” says Fonville, who co-produced the album. “I mean, he’s a legend at this point. I obviously knew him more as a straight-ahead vocalist, but I felt like he would feel at home with us – partly because our music is so rooted in the blues and Kurt already has a lot of blues in his music. And I was super happy at the fact that he trusted us enough to really steer things in this direction.”

SuperBlue is Elling’s 16th studio album as a leader. It follows last year’s album Secrets Are the Best Stories with Danilo Pérez, which won the Grammy Award for best jazz vocal album. Elling won the same award for his 2009 album Dedicated to You: Kurt Elling Sings the Music of Coltrane and Hartman, and over the course of a 25-year career he has racked up 14 Grammy nominations in total.

SuperBlue arrives Oct. 8 via Edition Records.

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