In celebrating Frank Sinatra's centenary Kurt Elling recalled jazz writer Leonard Feather saying that a singer, to paraphrase slightly, could either try and sound like Sinatra, in which case he'd end up simply sounding like he was trying to sound like Sinatra, or he could do it wrong. Elling, of course and to coin a phrase, did it his way - and stood Feather's assertion on its head.
As has been the case in his previous appearances with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, when he's run a perhaps unlikely sounding gamut from Joe Jackson to King Crimson songs to Saturday's encore, the Loch Tay Boat Song, Elling sounded like Elling. The Chicago-born singer's voice is a magnificent instrument and he's a virtuosic player on it, revealing a depth and quality of tone that would do a Stradivarius or Steinway justice and taking thrilling risks with phrasing and melodic lines.
Two examples here in particular illustrated his mastery and they were very different versions of the same song, I Only Have Eyes for You. The first opened the concert swinging briskly, with Elling and the orchestra immediately confirming their collective authority, and the second took the pace and mood probably closer than Sinatra ever got to Miles Davis's ruminating Shhh/Peaceful as Elling shared an intimate, candid delivery that might have served him very well indeed had he had it in his repertoire as the nineteen-year-old in his introductory story.
There was more vocal gold on a voice and trio slow march through Moonlight on Vermont, with orchestra director Tommy Smith adding a bewitching tenor saxophone solo, but the standard never slipped whether Elling was emphatically drop-kicking/conducting the orchestra's smart punctuation marks on Luck Be A Lady or handing over the delicate baton to pianist Brian Kellock on All the Way. For the orchestra it was more of an ensemble gig than usual, and one that they played sumptuously, but when called, the soloists offered commentaries in keeping with the man with the vocal mic.
Five stars: * * * * *