Upward Spiral
Review by Willard Manus

UPWARD SPIRAL, the new Okeh release featuring Kurt Elling and the Bradford Marsalis Quartet, is the exact opposite of SIX STRINGS STORY. No fiery playing and singing here, just quiet, sensitive investigations of mostly little-known jazz tunes and poetry.

As a singer, Elling is known for his adaptability: he can swing, scat, and deliver love songs with sincerity and warmth. These qualities match those of the Marsalis Quartet, which is one of the finest in the business. Their partnership on UPWARD SPIRAL has been a fruitful one. Recorded in a New Orleans studio, the CD kicks off with a sprightly version of a “Porgy and Bess” song, “There’s a Boat Dat’s Leavin’ Soon for New York.” It sets the stage for tunes like “Blue Gardenia” and Sting’s “Practical Arrangement” (Marsalis played with Sting for many years). A highlight is Elling’s interpretation of “I’m A Fool to Want You,” which Sinatra sang once in a studio session, never in public after that: it brought back too many painful memories of Ava Gardner.

Marsalis, alternating on sax and clarinet, fills all of the spaces behind Elling, aided by pianist Joey Calderazzo, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Justin Faulkner. These musicians excel on the title tune “The Return (Upward Spiral),” taking off in free-wheeling, heart-stopping fashion from Elling’s vocal intro. (Sonymasterworks.com)