Kurt Elling didn't disappoint dedicated fans at the National Concert Hall in Dublin 21 May 2013. Hitting the ground running, he swung and scatted, schmoozed and soared his three octave range effortlessly. The RTÉ concert orchestra led by Brian Byrne was relaxed yet disciplined, Byrne appearing to enjoy the experience. An accomplished composer himself of several film scores, it seemed like a happy collaboration.
Elling's A team was with him: pianist Laurence Hobgood in full control of his art and skills, dovetailing perfectly and confident in his 20 year collaboration with Elling. On bass Clark Summers melded so well we hardly knew he was there, except to add richness and depth. For once, this instrument wasn't out of tune and sharp! On guitar the contented looking McLean had some beautiful solos with the clarity of the perfectionist. It seemed effortless. Lesser musicians could learn a thing or two about avoiding guitar solos that are tiresome and self-indulgent.
Elling's drummer Scott Kendrick was ably substituted by Derry born Guy Rickarby, not a full-time member of the orchestra, which doesn't have a rhythm section on staff, but a regular as needed. He avoided clichés and stayed on the modest side of the spectrum.
The orchestra opened with Molly Malonakee, a variation on the Molly Malone melody which for me was a tad stage Irish. This was followed by An Affair to Remember before Elling appeared on stage and went straight into My Foolish Heart, one of his classics. Nightmoves from the 2007 album of the same name and written by Michael Franks and Michael Small was smooth and delicious. Tight, written by Betty Carter was just that. An American Tune by Paul Simon, arranged by Christian Elsasser took us back to Simon's version in 1975. It was nicely recognizable, but still unique. Tutti for Cutie was a tribute to Duke Ellington's trumpeter Cootie Williams and did the instrument justice.
Joe Jackson's Stepping Out got the second half swinging gently before The Beauty of all Things with lyrics written by Elling and music by Laurence Hobgood. It had wonderfully clean piano highlights to counter the vocal gymnastics of Elling's imaginative delivery. Nature Boy was another classic written sensitively by Elling with smooth vocal reaches before jazz rhythms crashed in to break the spell and then reel us back home again.
The encore of this satisfying concert was a version of Raglan Road, which I expect was arranged by Brian Byrne, just escaped the corny. At least it wasn't Danny Boy. It was a crowd pleaser and was sung sensitively and played well by the orchestra. Given a choice I would have avoided the idea, but it was well executed.