Kurt Elling headlines Wangaratta Jazz: Three Reviews

…Kurt Elling, probably jazz’s most exciting and engaging current singer, unleashed the best band he has brought here. It retained the brilliant pianist Laurence Hobgood, teamed with the tenor saxophonist Bob Sheppard, bassist Harish Raghavan and drummer Ulysses Owens.
Elling’s concerts have become more slick without losing risk and adventure. Whether it was the fizzing words he has set to Dexter Gordon’s reading of Body and Soul, the energy in Dedicated to You, the scatting on Nature Boy or the exultancy on Stairway to the Stars, Elling was fizzing. His voice is not innately beautiful, but all other aspects of the jazz singer’s art were maximised.

Sheppard’s generous sound stormed across Nature Boy and became honeyed and melting on the ballads. Hobgood’s finest solos set up melodic cross-currents, so two streams of ideas collided and merged. Raghavan is a virtuoso who favoured understatement, and Owens showed rare touch and flair. One solo with brushes was so light it was like little wings were beating against the skins.

By John Shand, for The Age (Australia), November 2, 2010

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THE festival’s headline act, Kurt Elling, first visited Wangaratta 12 years ago, and has since toured Australia seven times. Yet it is impossible to tire of Elling’s artistry, even as his performance style becomes more sleekly polished. Showmanship aside, Elling is an explorer at heart, and his vocal athleticism is exhilarating to behold.

His two sets were full of drama, adventure and humour. His quartet might be the strongest he has had, with pianist Laurence Hobgood (in brilliant form), saxophonist Bob Sheppard, bassist Harish Raghavan and the awe-inspiring Ulysses Owens on drums.

By Jessica Nicholas, for the Sydney Morning Herald, November 3, 2010

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IT’S always good to end on a high note, and for many at the Wangaratta Jazz Festival last weekend that note was provided by Kurt Elling.

The Chicago singer, returning to the festival for the first time in 12 years, was the top name on the bill and the act everyone wanted to see. That’s why on Sunday night, lines extended out the Wangaratta Performing Arts Centre doors and down the street for half a block, long before he was due to take to the stage.

Elling didn’t disappoint. He came with a reputation as the greatest jazz singer of recent times and left with that reputation firmly intact; scatting, improvising, “vocalesing” and crooning his way through a jaw-dropping, transfixing set.

It wasn’t just Elling that impressed – long-time collaborator Laurence Hobgood was vibrant and intelligent on the piano, while drummer Ulysses Owens was a revelation, particularly with his brushwork.

By Matt Neal, for the Warrnambool Standard, November 3, 2010