Recorded just a day before Johnny Hartman joined the John Coltrane Quartet for some historic vocal jazz sessions, this combo tackles a standard made famous in 1948 by Nat King Cole. Using such a recognizable tune makes it easier to detect how much Coltrane’s concept had already evolved from when he famously tackled another well-known song “My Favorite Things” three years earlier. You can almost make a game out of listening to this song by trying catch the times Coltrane is playing the notes from its evocative melody that he randomly scatters amongst his familiar, vertical approach of improvising. Nearly as prominent as those “sheets of sound” are Jones’ “clouds of cymbals.” Tyner chooses chord voicings that synchronize more with the drums than with ‘Trane or the composition itself, but the rhythm section matches its leader in intensity.
Coltrane would go on to record “Nature Boy” again in 1965, and it became part of his live repertoire around that time. Given the philosophical and spiritual sentiment of the song, it isn’t hard to see why he was attracted to it. At the same time, he recast it in his own image, and it’s a powerful image at that.
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In an age where the category of jazz singer has become increasingly inclusive, Kurt Elling is able to walk the fine line between commercially viable male vocalist and serious jazz musician. Altogether, he sings like a horn player rather than a typical jazz vocalist and draws more from Jon Hendricks than from someone like Frank Sinatra. As the arrangement moves from silky rubato to a fast Latin grove, "Nature Boy" highlights both Elling's powerful melodic sensibility and his virtuosic scat singing. With a memorable piano solo by Hobgood, this track provides many dramatic moments that jazz lovers of all kinds will appreciate.
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