Kurt Elling a scatting cool cat worth catching

Expect Kurt Elling to swing back and forth when he hits the stage here later this month.
The critically and popularly acclaimed singer will swing back to 1963 with material from his upcoming release, based on the classic recording John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman.

He’ll jump forth with material from a new studio disc he’s preparing to record.

And, appearing in the hometown of the Guess Who, he might well perform his version of Undun, from his 2007 album Nightmoves.

“I really should,” he said, when reminded of the geographic connection.

The jazz singer, leading a quartet, closes out the Izzy Asper Jazz Performances series May 23 with a concert at the Burton Cummings Theatre.

Elling has performed here three times before during Jazz Winnipeg festivals, and his expressive singing, arrangements and crack bands, and hipster persona have been crowd pleasers.

His idiosyncratic scat style and the depth of his performance style make him a great act to catch and have won him a following in a career that is generally on the wane — male jazz singer.

He is at home with the Great American Songbook and more contemporary material. His live recording, Dedicated to You: Kurt Elling Sings the Music of Coltrane and Hartman, is slated for release in late June, while his new studio recording is “gearing toward boogaloo, groovy guitar sort of thing,” he said in a telephone interview from New York.

“There will be some of our signature quartet thing happening, but a little bit more boogaloo,” he said. “It will be a mix of covers and new material. I’ve written lyrics to a number of things — not necessarily jazz standards — more contemporary pop standards.”

Longtime pianist and musical director Laurence Hobgood was a big part of the Hartman project, originally put together for the Chicago Jazz Festival, and will play his integral performing and arranging role on the new disc.

Elling has toured the Hartman/Coltrane project and received laudatory reviews: “Some of the best ballad singing being performed today,” said the Chicago Tribune; “Elling has proved his finesse as a Hartman-like melodist… accessing both Coltrane and Hartman, he sounded like no one but himself,” wrote the New York Times. The Washington Post called it “a stunning spectrum of music, both vocal and instrumental.”

“Laurence and I are core collaborators,” Elling said, but the lineup on the new disc is likely to change. “Some of these cats have been with us for years, but they get an itch to move on, to do other things.

“It’s pretty rare in jazz to have a full-on steady band,” he said, remarking that pianist Brad “Mehldau has a nice thing going on” with his longtime trio, or tenor saxophone great Sonny Rollins. “Some of it comes to money, how many dates you can book in a year.”

Elling said he is busy performing and doing the logistical and creative work associated with the recordings. “There is some very creative stuff,” he said, and some boring paperwork.

At the same time, “I’ve pulled back on dates a bit. I have a three-year-old daughter at home and I’m trying to create a balance of business and being as good a father as I can be.” That’s a difficult trick in his line of work.

The singer is performing more dates in Canada this jazz festival season, hitting stages in Saskatoon, Edmonton, Vancouver and Victoria.

Kurt Elling performs May 23, 8 p.m., Burton Cummings Theatre. Tickets $35 (students $25) from Ticketmaster.