Kurt Elling Goes Jazz Adjacent – DownBeat Magazine – Phillip Lutz  

Still feeling the effects of a fiery, four-night run at Ronnie Scott’s in London, Kurt Elling — DownBeat’s Male Vocalist of the Year — was safely back in the music-filled lair of his Chicago home, but operating in a zone between exhaustion and exhilaration.

“They were really some of those peak nights that you remember for the rest of your life,” the baritone vocalist said, momentarily diverting his eyes from the Zoom camera as his 5-year-old son, August Gerhard, vied for his attention. “It’s like when you know you’re playing at the top of your current abilities, and everyone is pulling together.”

That was hardly preordained. Elling, known for employing seasoned jazz musicians, had instead surrounded himself with millennial groove masters Corey Fonville on drums and DJ Harrison on keyboards, along with two backup singers and his generational peer and producer, Charlie Hunter, a remarkably adaptable guitarist who has, along with his jazz chops, explored the world of hip-hop since the 1990s.

At first blush, the dance-club quality of the onstage assemblage might have seemed at odds with Elling’s sensibilities. But in the days of pandemic, a little change was in order. As he put it, this new mode of expression “was, and is, an ongoing COVID experience” — one conceived as a release from the stir-craziness acquired during lockdown, which consigned him to staring at a wall of plaques that honored a musical prowess he was unable to fully share.

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