According to the quote from the Washington Post used to promote Kurt Elling's performances with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, "he has come to embody the creative spirit in jazz," and certainly there was plenty of creative spirit on display for his second and final performance at this year's Melbourne International Jazz Festival.
Ably accompanied by his impressive rhythm section of Mads Baerentzen on piano, John McLean on guitar, Clark Sommers on bass and Kendrick Scott on drums, plus the wonderful sounds of the MSO conducted by Benjamin Northey and special guests John Mackey on tenor sax and local singer Michelle Nicolle, Elling delivered what can only be described as a virtuoso performance. His renowned four octave range was put through its paces as he swooped, scatted, ad libbed and sung his heart out through a two hour plus show, which featured an attractively eclectic mix of songs embracing numbers drawn from his latest project, Passion World. These included a couple of Cuban songs, a Brazilian number, and even a Scottish folk song adapted to jazz stylings, all of which were extremely impressive. Then of course there were the standards - the opening Come Fly with Me, the impressive first-act closer, Easy Living (complete with a gorgeous arrangement for the orchestra), and a show-stopping rendition of the beautiful Nature Boy.
Mr Elling's remarkable technical expertise was matched by the commitment of his delivery and his taste in good songs, which in his hands often became opportunities for vocal acrobatics, but never at the expense of the emotional core of the piece. The orchestral arrangements were wonderful, his band were terrific, and the entire afternoon was a masterclass in top-notch jazz performance. This was a terrific must-see performance and a fantastic addition to the Melbourne Jazz Festival. We can only hope Mr Elling keeps visiting our shores for many more performances to come.