Kurt Elling ft. Danilo Pérez, Secrets are the Best Stories

It's been a long time since Kurt Elling or for that matter Danilo Pérez have made an album as accomplished as Secrets are the Best Stories. (In Elling's case 2009's Dedicated to You: Kurt Elling Sings the Music of Coltrane and Hartman; in the case …

Published: 3 Apr 2020. Updated: 21 months.

It's been a long time since Kurt Elling or for that matter Danilo Pérez have made an album as accomplished as Secrets are the Best Stories. (In Elling's case 2009's Dedicated to You: Kurt Elling Sings the Music of Coltrane and Hartman; in the case of Pérez Across the Crystal Sea from a year earlier.)

Supremely literary and poetic Elling has always had a faraway aura while Pérez cloaks the majesty of his playing in an often oblique magical realism that suits Elling's style. As a lyricist Elling does not go in for gimmicks, his method more a crafting of the metaphysical that will slowly invite you in to discover more as the many layers of the songs reveal themselves.

The album's cast of players includes Clark Sommers on double bass on a piece inspired by a Franz Wright poem shaped around a Jaco Pastorius piece, while alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón (more significantly), drummer Johnathan Blake and guitarist Chico Pinheiro also figure. But overwhelmingly the main musical direction is from piano leading to a conversation with voice. The ''Panamonkian'' style that Pérez himself has used as a shortcut in the past to describe his approach is more expansive than ever, his solo on 'Gratitude (for Robert Bly)' worth the price of the album alone. A great achievement, almost operatic at its most intense on 'Beloved (for Toni Morrison)' that every jazz fan should find the time to listen to and absorb.

Stephen Graham

Danilo Pérez, top left and Kurt Elling. Out now on Edition records. Photo: via Bandcamp.

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State of A&R

Wulf Müller, who signed acts such as Madeleine Peyroux, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Michael Brecker, John Scofield and The Bad Plus to Universal International and more recently headed up jazz strategy at the Sony-owned OKeh putting out records by among …

Published: 3 Apr 2020. Updated: 2 years.

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Wulf Müller, who signed acts such as Madeleine Peyroux, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Michael Brecker, John Scofield and The Bad Plus to Universal International and more recently headed up jazz strategy at the Sony-owned OKeh putting out records by among others Craig Handy and Nils Petter Molvaer, has written an insightful piece on his blog regarding A&R (artists and repertoire) and what he describes as ''a short observation on A&R in jazz today."

His key points are that:

  • the function of A&R has changed
  • some labels are less A&R-oriented and act more like collectors
  • major labels make sure that A&R fits their company objectives
  • where it does exist A&R people have to know more than they ever did
  • indie A&R will increase more in the future

"A&R used to be the core of any jazz label – being the direct work with the artists to discuss projects, song selection, side men, recording studios and special guests, producers and engineers – but that has changed over the last few years. Today any artist can easily produce the record they want to do and then, after the recording is done, look for a label or service provider that puts the record out physically and/or digitally. The label function therefore is less A&R oriented and more focused on distribution, marketing and promotion. At new labels like Edition Records or Ropeadope, to name just two of many, artists make license deals for their recordings and work together with the label on marketing and PR by using all social networks and traditional marketing means. These labels act more like collectors, putting together a selection of releases based on what they want on their labels … some more narrow in their musical selection process, others more open. A&R is probably more done at the major labels once they signed an artist, as they must fulfil the overall company’s objective as well as their own and must make sure the released music fits these parameters. In this climate the process of A&R in jazz seems to fall more to the team around the artist, like managers, agents and producers (in case the artist isn’t self-producing), as they are in more direct contact with the musician than most labels are today. This doesn’t mean that jazz labels today don’t need A&R people, they do, as the discussion on future projects once an artist is licensing his/her music to a label is obviously happening, but A&R people need to know more than in the past – they have to have a knowledge on modern communication and marketing concepts, to make sure the music they get on the label gets heard. There is now obviously as well the possibility of a form of ‘indie A&R’, as many artists, who recorded their music do not know to which label to go with it, or how to approach a label when not having the right contacts. Such an A&R person would not only need to know the musicians, but as well most major and indie label personnel and have contacts there to provide them with new recordings that are needing a home. If one understands the philosophy and musical direction of any label and is able to place recordings that fit within these parameters, it is a win-win situation for the label and the artist and as well for the indie A&R person. I am sure we will see more indie A&R, for the lack of a better description, in the future.''

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