KE at the London Jazz Festival

Four bands at the London jazz festival this week celebrated long-past works by John Coltrane, singer Johnny Hartman, Sidney Bechet and Eric Dolphy – the latter’s edgy lyricism explored in fine detail by a trimmed-down, sax-and-vibes version of the much-feted newcomers Empirical.
On Tuesday, Chicago singer Kurt Elling revisited the 1960s meetings of John Coltrane and singer Johnny Hartman with his familiar demonic energy – intriguing, considering he was once a divinity student. UK saxophonist Tony Kofi and pianist Jonathan Gee also visited Coltrane, making a fragile eulogy out of Naima, and a transfixing valediction out of the civil rights-inspired Alabama.

Elling arrived with an augmented band including strings and rugged saxophonist Bennie Maupin. He came close to mawkishness in making Lush Life so audibly the confessions of a drunk, and some of his startling note-bends mangled the lyrics. But on flat-out horn-like improvising he was devastating, and the ingenuity of pianist Laurence Hobgood came a close second.