Kurt Elling: Turning his material into gold

He’s been topping male jazz-vocal polls for 15 years, so Kurt Elling fans must have been surprised to find numbers by Joe Jackson, King Crimson and The Beatles on his latest recording.
Alarmed, too, to discover Don Was, producer of Bob Dylan and Rolling Stones albums, in the control booth. But all was well. You can take the singer out of jazz but you can’t take the jazz out of the singer.

Elling was at his suave best last night, turning all his material into gold.

“Here’s something from our new album, The Gate, as in “Swings Like a …, ” he remarked, introducing his fine pianist-MD Laurence Hobgood and two imposing newcomers, double-bassist Harish Raghavan and Ulysses Owens Jr, a young drummer whose blend of power and finesse was something to behold.

Easing Elling through Stepping Out and Dedicated to You, they moved like a handbuilt sports car.

Soon Elling summoned a smart roster of guest stars, including US guitarist John McLean, French button-accordion virtuoso Richard Galliano and Scottish tenor heavyweight Tommy Smith. McLean, using an effective “oozing- in” effect, shared the bossa-ballad Estate [Summer] with Galliano, and Smith shone on Resolution, a Coltrane classic from A Love Supreme that was perfect type-casting for him.

Finally, Elling fronted the Scottish National Orchestra, an impressive 17-piece outfit led by Smith, for Nature Boy, April in Paris (more superb Galliano), Norwegian Wood, More Than You Know and Stevie Wonder’s Golden Lady.

With his relaxed artistry, evident love of performing, warm sound and similarly warm personality, Elling has few rivals. His killer blend of dynamic scatting and sensuous balladry has perhaps been summed up best by my singing friend and sometime fellow radio presenter, Claire Martin. “Kurt Elling is audio porn,” she said. You could see what she means.

Five stars: * * * * *