Kurt Elling & Sheila Jordan: The True Spirit of Jazz
As 'jazz' becomes ever broader, interviews such as 'Hear Me Talkin' To Ya' lend the London Jazz Festival a festive atmosphere, bringing it back to its roots. Sheila Jordan told vibrant and hilarious stories of being squashed into a green VW with Ornette Coleman, travelling to “Max” (Roach) and “Abbey” (Lincoln)'s wedding. Contrasted with Kurt Elling's passion for philosophical and technical descriptions of the tradition, this interview served as the perfect amuse-bouche to a concert that was to be a euphoric reminder of the true spirit of jazz.
Sheila took the first set, accompanied by the Brian Kellock trio – somehow twinning Scottish dry wit and American banter like two lost brothers. Kellock, his back to the audience, played with sensitivity and majesty, tenderly padding out the chords to a theatrical 'Pent-up House' and literally punching the lowest keys during a trio instrumental. Sheila kissed his bald head and began improvising a narrative blues that transported us to the garbage cans of Pennsylvania where she sat and met Charlie Parker. “He musta' wrote that tune for me, chasin' the bird!” she sang, with that soulful precision that only sincerity and absolute affinity with the music can bring. The QEH was transformed into an intimate jam, where clapping and whooping was a true outburst of joy rather than a formality.
After the interval Kurt Elling strode onto the stage like a Sinatra pastiche and initially seemed too flawless to be enchanting, with gelled hair and super-smooth vocals on 'Fly Me to the Moon'. But this was simply a ruse to tame the audience's soprano squeals, who would perhaps not otherwise have experienced the sinister glory of arrangements such as 'On Broadway'. Elling evoked the church chorales of his childhood, using a long delay on the vocals that metamorphosed into a hip groove and a dark bassline of tritones, expressing the troubled history of this beloved music. Following a standing ovation he invited back our beloved diva, and the two masters of vocalese duetted on 'Moody's Mood' with a flirtatious spontaneity that perfectly concluded this glorious homage to jazz.