Melbourne International Jazz Festival: Kurt Elling and Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Kurt Elling made much of his name for his vocal improvisations over famous jazz solos But is most distinctive quality is his richness of tone, like liquid chocolate, but with a rough edge that prevents him ever descending into sentimentality.
It was a tone showcased in his performance with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. He was able to carry the orchestra with him, displaying power, subtle dynamics and a true sense of depth at the microphone. But it was his vowels that wowed most, creating an elegant balance between his voice as instrument and as song.

Combining a jazz band with orchestra can mean a necessary compromise between the prepared instrumental parts and spontaneous invention. There can be less room for the vocalist to experiment with the phrasing, but there is the potential to bring in many contrasts. The arrangements exploited this well. Most impressive were the crescendos, with Elling’s voice soaring convincingly over the orchestra.

Stylistically, the music was rooted firmly in the 1940s and 50s; standards such as Come Fly With Me, All the Way, Nature Boy. It says something for that era of jazz that the pieces can remain so compelling.