Kurt Elling and Cécile McLorin Salvant dazzle at Cadogan Hall
Kurt Elling radiates bonhomie, but is more theatrical, grittier maybe, his grey suit tightly buttoned, standing firm, like a Chicagoan should, hands outstretched, as that great tree-trunk of a baritone voice resonates and builds into an almost operatic series of crescendos. He had already made a guest appearance with The Swingles, the clever close-harmony group who opened for him. Here he commenced his set with a straight reading of 'La Vie En Rose' which seemed like a tribute to those who had lost their lives in Paris, before he let rip with 'Come Fly With Me', this featuring a lengthy, florid solo excursion by pianist/organist Stu Mindeman, the vocal ascending as the band built behind him, Elling moving way beyond Sinatra's template. This was a bravura performance as was 'Nature Boy', the lyrics subtly changed, and suffused with a scat routine of quite dazzling virtuosity, with drummer Ulysses Owens Jr, matching him lick for lick.
There were speeches, even a burst of poetry and a sense of heartfelt concern for victims of violence everywhere from Elling, plus a modest plug for Passion World, his latest album, from which a number of these songs were drawn. 'Skylark', taken for another technically accomplished outing was the encore, before Elling bowed, the band (completed by bassist Clarke Sommers and the versatile guitarist John McLean) readying to move on to Helsinki on Tuesday. He's a man of incredible, harnessed drive, huge vocal energy, and very possibly the finest jazz vocalist on the planet.