Kurt Elling: A voice that carries

One of the challenges in putting together a festival program is matching artists and venues, and Monday’s show by singer Kurt Elling at the Enwave Theatre was an absolutely perfect pairing. Not only was the hall the right size, big enough for Elling’s fans to pack the place, but it also had the ideal ambience, being dark and intimate enough to suggest an after-hours club yet without the annoyance of smoke and noise.
Elling is a prodigiously gifted singer, with a sophisticated sense of swing and a tart, agile baritone capable of pretty much anything he wants. While that can lead to impressive displays of bravura, as on the opening version of Joe Jackson’s Steppin’ Out, it also leaves him vulnerable to fits of unnecessary showing off, as with the Al Jarreau-style beatbox bit at the beginning of Samurai Hee-Haw.

Yet if Elling’s non-verbal vocals don’t always sizzle, what he can do with a melody and lyrics simply dazzles. It wasn’t just that his set ranged from standards such as Skylark to such pop chestnuts as Norwegian Wood; Elling was able to transform each into something fresh and transformative, at times – as on After the Love Has Gone – revealing emotional resonances a more straightforward rendition would miss.