Album reviews

Superblue: ‘Guilty Pleasures’ by Kurt Elling & Charlie Hunter (feat. Nate Smith)

Superblue: Guilty Pleasures by Kurt Elling & Charlie Hunter (feat. Nate Smith)

(Edition. EDNDA1223. EP review by Alison Bentley)

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“I like to do big things and make big statements,” US singer Kurt Elling told one interviewer. This new Guilty Pleasures EP builds on Elling’s rapport with Charlie Hunter, whose hybrid guitar allows him to play bass at the same time as regular guitar. The sheer visceral thrill of the funk hits you straight away; the taut trio, with Nate Smith on drums, has even more energy than the previous quartet in  two earlier Superblue releases.

There are five soulful covers and one instrumental original. Eddie Money’s ‘77 hit Baby Hold on To Me opens with dramatic subtlety; complex rhythms and gentle vocals that build in power as if energised by the drumming. Elling has had soulful elements in his singing right from his first album, and his improvisations at the end blend perfectly with Hunter’s single string funkiness. In Isaac Hayes’ Wrap It Up, Hunter’s strutting bass lines and sleazy wah wah guitar merge with the slinky vocals and powerful backbeat. Elling veers between knowing blues and falsetto with a wide vibrato; there’s some fine rhythmic scatting and imaginative harmony in the backing vocals.

Elling wraps Al Jarreau’s Boogie Down in vocal harmonies instead of horns. The driving groove has a personality of its own, and there’s a sense everybody’s contributing to it. (“If you are playing with a drummer, you don’t try and boss the drummer around!” Hunter has said.) Bounce is by Nate Smith, wonderfully asymmetrical and originally on his Kinfolk album. This version has Hunter playing complex bass and spacey guitar synth sounds.

PJ Morton’s Sticking to My Guns has an irresistibly intricate feel, the clipped vocal grooving along. The falsetto backing vocals sync their vibrato loosely with the lead vocal, D’Angelo-like. (Hunter has also worked with D’Angelo.) A surprise is AC/DC’s rock hit (about a hitman) song Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, in a minor funky groove. Elling responds with soulful humour and a rock rasp in the voice, declaiming some of the lyrics like a beat poem The drumming is so complex it’s almost like a continuous solo with the slap bass.

Superblue’s first album was recorded during lockdown, using pre-recorded tracks, while The London Sessions were recorded Live at the Pool; Guilty Pleasures returns to the pre-recorded model, adding vocals later, but has the raw energy of a live performance. It’s a thrilling EP, guilty as charged of being very pleasurable. Expect an augmented version out later this year.

LINKS: Buy Guilty Pleasures

Review of the original Superblue album by John Bungey

Edition Records has a 15th Anniversary Clubnight at the Sendesaal in Bremen during jazzahead! (LINK)

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