American jazz vocalist Kurt Elling is a magician. He's capable of weaving a spell from a melody - and he lives and breathes the music while on stage.
Elling's remarkable skill is obvious, but never daunting. He can play it straight with the accessibility of The Manhattan Transfer or offer a Frank Sinatra croon - just the right side of cheesy - or he can dazzle with his power and range, with a frightening virtuosity.
Highlight of the night for me was hearing his rendition of Resolution from John Coltrane's A Love Supreme; Elling's words performed to not just follow the original melody but his voice rising and falling as if Coltrane's horn was still the guide.
An astonishing piece and one of several in fact that showed just how world class Rodger Fox's Wellington Jazz Orchestra has become - and how lucky we are that this band, and Fox in particular, tirelessly work to ensure such collaborations can continue.
We're lucky to see this sort of performer in New Zealand - and then for an audience to appreciate the skill our local players have is a cherry on top.
Elling seemed to exist in his own time and space on stage - his walk, his dancing, everything summoned through him via the songs, all so effortlessly cool but with a sharpness that showed he cares; that hinted at just how much time and effort it takes to make this sort of performance feel so natural and easy.
Another highlight was Elling's celebrated arrangement of Nature Boy. As with much of the set, including a version of Joe Jackson's Steppin' Out, Elling is able to take a standard and approach it so that it feels like a new tune, the only version of the song that matters. And in that time and space - the moments when Elling struts from the stage - his versions are the only ones that matter.
Saxophonist Eric Marienthal, also visiting from the United States, a return guest of the Wellington Jazz Orchestra, threw a flurry of notes from his horn. Tasteful always, if occasionally a little too busy, he was for many an added highlight.