Review: Kurt Elling Quintet @ Edinburgh Jazz Festival

Though his style and appearance is as understated as Not Flash, Just Gordon (a long walk and a slow drawl with the minimum of chit-chat complimented with a luggage malfunction which rendered him suitless), Kurt Elling’s execution is nothing short of tremendous.
With his feet firmly rooted to the spot and his fine quintet firmly rooted in the here and now of the Assembly Hall on The Mound as part of the second night of the 2018 Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival, this “little man in a space capsule” oozed class and wowed the appreciative audience with two meticulous and marvellous hour-long sets.

The first of which opened with a stirring rendition of A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall by Bob Dylan and contained an impressive reworking of I Have Dreamed from The King and I as well as a meditative take on the late Franz Wright’s poem A Happy Thought, all of which feature on his recent studio album The Questions.

With each of his fellow musicians (Stu Mindeman on piano and keyboard, Clark Sommers on bass, John McLean on guitar and [Adonis Rose] on drums) soaring to the same giddy heights as Elling in their spotlit solos and dynamic duets.

But the temperature spiked a notch or two higher in the second half with the introduction of trumpeter Marquis Hill whose contribution to Lawns by Carla Bley โ€“ a track which Elling described as “a futurist song”, “deceptively simple” and “a master of understatement” โ€“ was both explosive and moving.

In his opening exchange, the Grammy award-winning vocalist made reference to the current “geopolitical situation” and asked the burning question of the day: “How the hell did this happen?” At one point praising Trump protesters for making international news by “giving him the finger”. A theme he explored in several numbers and even more so in The Questions which as the title suggests offers no easy answers.

But if the first half was political with a capital “P”, the second was more personal with his beautiful delivery of Ben Webster’s ballad Did You Call Her Today? one of the rare moments when his muscular and confident delivery gave way to a chink of vulnerability.

If a hard rain’s a-gonna fall, then there’s no better antidote than to take shelter from the storm under the welcoming umbrella of Kurt Elling who along with his mighty fine quintet and the Chicago-born Marquis Hill wowed the audience into a standing ovation before continuing their 200-gig tour which brings them back to the UK in late October when they play seven shows on six nights at Ronnie Scott’s.