At 7 p.m. sharp we're in the Arena for Kurt Elling's "Dedicated to You,â€ a program of John Coltrane/Johnny Hartman songs and more. Although this is the show he's bringing to the Ted Mann Concert Hall in Minneapolis in February as part of the 2008-09 Northrop Jazz Season, we go anyway.
I'll be glad to see it again in February. Elling's quartet is augmented by Ernie Watts on tenor sax (this is, after all, a Coltrane/Hartman tribute) and a string quartet called ETHEL. The strings are just right, adding texture without turning this into a Kurt-with-strings project.
Elling begins the evening with a "poetic jazz memoryâ€: "That sweet expression, the smile you gave me, it's easy to rememberâ€”or is it?â€ He gives some background on the classic '60s LP on which the show is based. He sings "What's New?â€ and then "Lush Life.â€ I have always wanted to hear Elling sing this beautiful yet tragically sad and enormously challenging song by Billy Strayhorn. No surprise, he nails it.
"Autumn Serenade,â€ "You Are Too Beautiful,â€ "You Don't Know What Love Isâ€ (at last, he scats). Elling has a strong relationship with the Monterey Jazz Festivalâ€”he performed here in 2002 and was Artist-in-Residence in 2006â€”which he acknowledges by saying, "We're so happy to be here with our friends again.â€ He dedicates "My One and Only Loveâ€ to "my loves listening on the radio at home.â€ He doesn't like being away from his family; when he sings "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morningâ€ (which he doesn't during this performance, but I have often heard him sing it) you know he means every word, which makes the song especially moving and powerful. Tonight he sings "Lola with the Laughing Face,â€ at one point changing "Lolaâ€ to "Luiza,â€ his daughter's name.
His quartetâ€”billed tonight as the Laurence Hobgood Trioâ€”includes Hobgood ("my collaboratorâ€) on piano, Ulysses Owens on drumsâ€”and Clark Summers on bass. We're used to seeing different drummers with Elling's group, but where's Rob Amster? "Bessie's Blues,â€ entirely scatted, swings us to the end of the set. Satisfying in every way.