Kurt Elling is as smooth as ever

Everything Kurt Elling does has style. Back by public demand, this dapper Chicago supercrooner unveiled a suite based on the recordings of John Coltrane and singer Johnny Hartman. Recalling that one was a superstar and the other almost unknown, Elling added: “But we remember them both, because we’re jazz people.”
Elling was already speaking in rhythm, setting his prologue to an atmospheric vamp by his US trio and a London string quartet. The Solid Strings, led by violinist Sonia Slany, made tidy work of pianist Laurence Hobgood’s canny arrangements.

Playing Trane was Bennie Maupin, the rock-blasting tenorman of Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters. Few would have expected sensitive jazz balladry, yet his dry, unsentimental tone and uncomplicated ideas were ideal. “Bennie’s worked with the best,” Elling said. “Guys one name will identify. Like Herbie, Horace, McCoy. And Miles.”

Hobgood was even better. His touch, timing and chordwork inspired young bassist Clark Cummings and drummer Ulysses Owen as Elling used his rich baritone on a string of standards. Lush Life, All or Nothing at All and Easy to Remember were outstanding. Bessie’s Blues showcased Kurt’s vocal gymnastics, and Why I Keep Going Back to Joe’s made a perfect encore.