Label: Concord Jazz
For a vocalist, Kurt Elling is one stone-cold badass, and his velvety panache can leap from Johnny Hartman to '70s pop standards with world-on-a-string ease. He teams up with late producer Don Was for this classicist set of standards and covers. There are surprises in both the song selection and Elling's treatments (check out his intentionally sour note on the verses to Joe Jackson's "Steppin' Out"), and romantic renderings of everything from "Norwegian Wood" to King Crimson. It's Elling himself that makes it all work, and The Gate is among 2011's best -- and weirdest -- vocal jazz records.