Kurt Elling’s “Passion World” at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival

The organisers of Cheltenham Jazz Festival proved that they don't lie. No, this wasn't through some bizarre test involving electrodes and quivering needles.
After they introduced American vocalist Kurt Elling as, “one of today's greatest Jazz singers…” Elling provided the proof himself.

A giant-name addition to this year's roster, the compere said he hoped that this evening's performance would be the start of a long term relationship between Elling and the town's festival.

Taking stage to raucous applause from a packed Town Hall, Elling himself said how pleased he was to attend.

Backed by a brilliant band, the vocal virtuoso played the room through a conceptual set. Each song would tell the story of a young American traveller, trekking the globe in the quest for love. So started a trip through musical styles, taking the crowded rows across France, Cuba, Poland and the USA.

The set would show a genuine respect for the Jazz standards, as well as a forward-look into where Jazz might go. Elling and his band's opening version of Come Fly with Me was a great example – both free and off-tempo yet somehow reverent and fond.

Elling displayed his famous flair for vocalese, scat and mastery of vibrato. Whilst sometimes the band's instrumental sections were so beautifully lyrical that lesser singers might have struggled to come back in and match up. Elling however, has a knack for making you feel glad with every note that leaves his mouth.

At the end of the international-themed performance, Elling and his band also gave one of the most convincing ever performances of “we're going to walk off stage for good now and not play an encore,” before coming back to play an encore.

All present at the Town Hall that night were very glad they did. And all agreed with the compere, in hoping that this would be the first of many visits to Cheltenham for the wonderful Elling and his wonderful band.