Everything Kurt Elling does has style. Back by public demand, this dapper Chicago supercrooner unveiled a suite based on the recordings of John Coltrane and singer Johnny Hartman. Recalling that one was a superstar and the other almost unknown, Elling added: "But we remember them both, because we're jazz people.â€
Elling was already speaking in rhythm, setting his prologue to an atmospheric vamp by his US trio and a London string quartet. The Solid Strings, led by violinist Sonia Slany, made tidy work of pianist Laurence Hobgood's canny arrangements.
Playing Trane was Bennie Maupin, the rock-blasting tenorman of Herbie Hancock's Headhunters. Few would have expected sensitive jazz balladry, yet his dry, unsentimental tone and uncomplicated ideas were ideal. "Bennie's worked with the best,â€ Elling said. "Guys one name will identify. Like Herbie, Horace, McCoy. And Miles.â€
Hobgood was even better. His touch, timing and chordwork inspired young bassist Clark Cummings and drummer Ulysses Owen as Elling used his rich baritone on a string of standards. Lush Life, All or Nothing at All and Easy to Remember were outstanding. Bessie's Blues showcased Kurt's vocal gymnastics, and Why I Keep Going Back to Joe's made a perfect encore.