Grammy-winning Chicago-born singer, Kurt Elling, is regarded by many critics as the finest male jazz vocalist working today and on the evidence of what can only be described as a captivating performance at Cheltenham's Town Hall venue it's not difficult to understand why. As a musician, Elling's timing, pitch, technique and emotional sensitivity are breathtaking. He uses his voice as if it were an instrument - phrasing like a horn player - and makes everything he sings sound deceptively effortless.
The singer opened his set with an unusual take on the Sinatra-associated classic, 'Come Fly With Me,' changing the tempo, arrangement and phrasing but doing it with a respectful aplomb and making the song sound fresh rather than jet-lagged and jaded. Using it as a launch pad for a new song cycle exploring the theme of love around the globe - which is the leitmotif of his forthcoming album, 'Passion World' - Elling sang songs in French, Spanish, and even Polish, as well as his native English and proved a compelling storyteller who was able to weave music from different cultures together seamlessly and in a wholly convincing manner.
He had a good band behind him, too, including guitarist John McLean, who delivered some intricate but soulful fretboard work in a style akin to Pat Metheny's. The Town Hall's boomy acoustics weren't ideal for Elling - who is perhaps best savoured in the more intimate surrounds of a small jazz club - but they didn't mar a performance that was nothing less than a veritable masterclass in the art of jazz singing.