Kurt Elling: Mesmerizing
Kurt Elling walks on stage as if he owns it, launches into Come Fly with Me, and the packed audience greet him as if he were the king of jazz singers. Elling's jazz festival set was dominated by numbers from 1619 Broadway, his latest album of songs that originated in NYC's Brill Building, including Burt Bacharach/Hal David's philosophical A House Is Not a Home and I'm Satisfied.
His introductory cadenza to On Broadway, the definitive song about big city ambition, was mesmerising: Elling looped sustained tones through a digital delay, refracting his vocals into a hall of mirrors that glanced back at electric Miles (and maybe sideways at Hyperpotamus).
What a sound he makes! Elling may control that four-octave rage with icy precision, but he combines perfection with a warmth and humour that makes it listenable: his albums don't go stale. He treats lyrics with respect, revealing grace and meaning in everyday sentiments.
The musical arrangements are always in the service of the song, but they add fresh elements, such as the Metheny-like counter-melody in Come Fly With me, or the slinky bass for On Broadway.
Elling is a fine raconteur. He introduced I Only Have Eyes for You with a vivid anecdote about the effect of the Flamingos' numinous version on a car radio during a teenage romantic encounter, noting that he owes songwriters Harry Warren and Al Dubin a “debt of gratitude”.
He dedicated Sam Cooke's You Send Me to Sheila Jordan, who performed a lovely supporting set with Brian Kellock's trio. Jordan (soon to be 84) joined Elling for the encore, a spontaneous jam on I'm in the Mood for Love, and we witnessed a special moment in jazz history. “I love her 8,000 times over,” declared Elling. “She was there when the table was set.”
Five stars: * * * * *