The idea had been to bring Christmas to Ronnie Scott's a few weeks early, by playing pre-season material from Kurt Elling's new album, The Beautiful Day. But a recent election result seemed to be weighing on his mind; as a result, a pall of anguish and disbelief hung over the gig, and was never entirely dispelled. Elling made constant oblique references, speaking at one point of "violence to the human soul" and later reminding us that "jews and communists wrote all the best Christmas songs".
He looked sombre as he came on, launching into a long vocal-and-piano introduction to a quiet ballad that turned out to be Glen Miller's Moonlight Serenade. There was a Christmas song called Some Children See Him, about different racial perceptions of the Baby Jesus, during which pianist Stuart Mindeman switched from the Ronnie's Yamaha grand to his bright red Nord for some warbling organ sounds, over which Elling produced multi-echo vocal effects. This was followed by a funky version of Little Drummer Boy, with new hipster lyrics and an extended scat.
In the second half, two songs by Bob Dylan, first a spoken-word version of Everything Is Broken followed by A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall. Later, for the benefit for those unfamiliar with Mark Murphy's Kerouac Then and Now, there was a lengthy introduction to Lord Buckley, complete with the full 'Friends, Romans and countrymen' speech.
The highlight of the night was Carla Bley's sweet, melodic Lawns, with lyrics by Elling and great solos from bass player Clark Sommers and guitarist John McLean. In truth it would have been nice to hear more from the band, but it was late in the evening before we were given a chance to appreciate what a terrific drummer they have in Ulysses Owens Jr.
One could hardly blame Elling for his dismay about the American election: it is shared by very many, but it inevitably trumped both the joy of Christmas and the finger-snappin' silliness of jazz hipsterism.