Kurt Elling & Charlie Hunter Trio, Salon Elegance
Jazz is a broad church; that a-z in the middle gives a clue to its inclusivity.
All the same, and even at a time when jazz musicians are increasingly embracing the music all around them, there can’t be too many jazz repertoires that namecheck Del Shannon, Hank Williams, the Steve Miller Band, and King Crimson.
After an introduction that showed why guitarist Charlie Hunter and drummer Derek Phillips might be mistaken in a blindfold test for a trio – Hunter’s customised guitar, to say nothing of his right thumb and fingers, allows him to pick fully realised bass lines and guitar solos simultaneously – Kurt Elling opened his contribution with Cheap Trick’s I Want You to Want Me. As you do.
Elling’s superbly finessed tone and fearless instrumentalist’s approach to improvising could transform, one suspects, any song into a credible jazz vehicle.
Here, he, Hunter and Phillips became the George Benson band, funking previously unimagined grooviness into Shannon’s Runaway. With Tommy Smith’s, keening, bluesy tenor saxophone added, I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry assumed gospel-jazz credentials and another guest voice, Tim Hagans’ trumpet broadened the palette further in a spacey, rocking Fly Like an Eagle.
This was never intended to be a formal presentation. But while some of what Elling described as “our shenanigans” perhaps overstretched matters a mite, his invention, with and without electronic enhancement, alongside Hunter’s always musical, even at its jokiest, trick bag and Phillips’ expertly judged, soulful drumming coalesced into a masterclass. And only the threesome’s genial encore of Steve Miller’s The Joker could have topped the marvellous tumult that was Crimson’s Three of a Perfect Pair.
Four stars: ****