Kurt Elling: ‘S Wonderful

Kurt Elling didn’t actually sing the Gershwin’s ‘S Wonderful – or anything else from the standard jazz repertoire until the encore of My Foolish Heart – but it would have served as the perfect summing-up of this long awaited Scottish debut.
Put simply, the Chicagoan is the great jazz singer of his time. Vocally, he can venture where others cannot. His rich, dark voice covers a huge range with impeccable control and expressive power, and if his approach owes something to Mark Murphy, he has created his own original and immediately identifiable style of phrasing and delivery.

The excellent Norbotten Big Band, directed by American trumpeter Tim Hagans and augmented by Elling’s regular pianist, Laurence Hobgood, was a considerable bonus. The Swedish musicians made their own powerful contribution to proceedings, both in realising the superb arrangements – mainly by Hagans or the Yellowjackets’ Bob Mintzer – and in their soloing.

No doubt, though, who was the star of this show.

Right from his opening foray, a swinging reworking of Joe Jackson’s Stepping Out, Elling sang his way through an imaginative selection of material, ranging from a fairly straight rendition of James Taylor’s You Can Close Your Eyes to the scatted vocalese of Herbie Hancock’s The Eye of the Hurricane, taking in John Coltrane’s Resolution, Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil and Don Grolnick’s Night Town (incorporating a recitation from Duke Ellington) along the way. Highlights? That’s easy. Just about everything he did.

Kurt Elling & The Norbotten Big Band, performed at Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, Scotland, January 15, 2009.