Making his Café Carlyle debut with a Sinatra tribute, Kurt Elling took over the room—charming, and so thoroughly practiced and confident that he was clearly in charge of the night — and Sinatra. Without a word, he lit right into "Come Fly with Me" and "In the Still of the Night." The preamble to his next number "Nice & Easy" was beautifully expressed — Sinatra was described as the fully emancipated male, the champ, the comeback kid. In fact, the commentary throughout his show was both tough and poetic. Elling not only has expertise on the subject, he has the writing gift of a poet and an ability to make description sound like the underpinning of a movie score. He read another writer Gay Talese's description of Sinatra one night at Jilly's saloon in 1966 to introduce the song "Where or When," which was yet another texture added to the Sinatra portrait.
As a singer, Kurt Elling is an agile vocalist and brilliant musician in collaboration with his band. His voice is warm and flexible, scat complex — as in "April in Paris," when he scatted a competitive duet with drummer Jared Schonig. And when he slows down and gets intimate, as in "I'm a Fool to Want You," he is as close to the heart as one can be.
The encore was his invention: original vocal introduction to "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning" quietly accompanied only by piano. It was at once a love song to his wife and deep personal expression of a singer's life on the road.
His musicians are major stars of this evening. Each have ample opportunity to shine—and boy, do they. The arrangements are effective, surprising and executed with the heart and soul of men on a mission. They are: Clark Sommers, Bass; John McClean, Guitar; Jared Schonig, Drums; Wayne Tucker, Trumpet; Troy Roberts, Tenor Sax; and Gary Versace, Piano.
By any standard, Elling Swings Sinatra is wonderful. But in the classic intimacy of the Carlyle — not to be missed!