Kurt Elling wows, then blows them away with special guest

It’s been 20 years since Kurt Elling first performed in Australia. Back then, the singer’s star was firmly on the rise in the US, but he had yet to develop a profile in this country. These days, Elling is as rapturously received here as he is everywhere he tours, and he fills concert halls with ease whenever he returns.
In 2015 Elling performed in Melbourne with the MSO, and the orchestral setting emphasised the power of his magnificent voice, along with the air of authority he projects as easily as he skips across melodic intervals or slips into that striking falsetto. On this visit, the intimacy of a club setting – along with the introspective slant of his new album, The Questions – offers audiences a different perspective.

Yes, Elling’s vocal range, control and flexibility are awe-inspiring, but it’s not only in the soaring, roaring climaxes and rapid-fire scatting that his artistry is revealed. On Tuesday night, he and his superb band (Stu Mindeman on piano, John McLean on guitar, Clark Sommers on bass and Christian Euman on drums) dug in deep on Dylan’s A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, but the tune opened with Elling’s voice alone, each perfectly articulated word dropping into a pointed silence.

On Endless Lawns the singer draped poetic lyrics and subtly elongated phrases over a soulful backbeat, while the exquisite, hymn-like Washing of the Water – performed as a duet with Mindeman – ached with tenderness and heart-rending vulnerability.

As an encore, Elling returned to the stage with some surprise guests: US saxophonist Branford Marsalis and his quartet, who are in town for the Melbourne International Jazz Festival. It made for a thrilling finale, with Elling and Marsalis relishing each other’s company and ratcheting up the energy level as they coaxed The Return‘s buoyant melody into a galloping Afro-samba before coming to rest in graceful unison.

Four & a half stars: * * * * 1/2