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Kurt Elling and the National Jazz Orchestra at the MNT Theatre

Kurt Elling and the National Jazz Orchestra at the MNT Theatre

Courtesy Tatjana Rantasha

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Kurt Elling & National Jazz Orchestra
MNT Theatre
Skopje, Macedonia
May 15, 2024

Kurt Elling and the National Jazz Orchestra graced the stage of the MNT Theatre in Skopje, Macedonia, delivering an extraordinary performance. This marked their second collaboration after their unforgettable encounter at Lisinski Hall in Zagreb, Croatia, in 2021, where they left audiences awe-inspired. However, the intimacy of the venue in Skopje added a new layer of intensity to the performance.

After a brief introduction by the National Jazz Orchestra's Director, Goce Stevkovski, a hush fell over the audience as the orchestra's conductor, Dzijan Emin, quietly entered the stage. From the moment the big band kicked off the evening with a slow instrumental, "Hey Burner," it was clear that the audience was in for a treat. Emin announced the guest's arrival with a sense of reverence. As Elling made his entrance to thunderous applause, he not only showcased his exceptional vocal talent but also demonstrated remarkable leadership and connection with the crowd. As he took his place among the ensemble, there was a palpable sense of camaraderie and mutual respect between him and the orchestra.

Elling's performance with the National Jazz Orchestra was a transcendent experience, marked by soul-stirring renditions and captivating improvisations. The concert was a master class in singing and bandleading, with Elling guiding the orchestra through intricate arrangements. His captivating presence is evident to those who have attended his concerts. It is not just his vocals; it is also his stage presence and manner of speaking. Elling's ability to communicate emotion through music was palpable, leaving a lasting impression on everyone in attendance.

The National Jazz Orchestra delivered a powerful and precisely executed performance, packing a mighty punch with its uplifting set. Their great grooves combined with a big-band fire set the tone for an electrifying evening. Elling's vocal prowess was on full display throughout the concert, with his supple and pliant voice effortlessly navigating the diverse repertoire. Whether delivering heartfelt ballads or upbeat swing numbers, he imbued each performance with his distinct sound, captivating the audience from start to finish. "Steppin' Out" showcased Elling's versatility as he effortlessly shifted between smooth crooning and spirited scatting, dazzling the crowd with his vocal agility. The band's impeccable synergy and tight arrangements provided the perfect backdrop for Elling's virtuosity, creating moments of sheer musical brilliance. "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" was a tender interlude, with Elling's velvety vocals caressing each note with warmth and sincerity. The orchestra's lush harmonies added depth to the performance, eliciting sighs of admiration from the audience.

One of the highlights of the evening was Elling's meticulous introduction to each song, providing insights into its origins and composers. He showcased his remarkable talent by striking the perfect balance between commanding attention with his singing and allowing instrumental soloists to shine. He skillfully navigated between leading the ensemble and providing space for the band members to make meaningful contributions to each song. Even when faced with the challenge of pronouncing Slavic names, he effortlessly acknowledged the soloists in the band, showcasing his respect for their contributions.

"You Are Too Beautiful" was a poignant tribute to love, with Elling's rich timbre conveying a depth of feeling that was palpable. The orchestra's sensitive accompaniment underscored the emotional intensity of the song, eliciting tears of joy from the audience. Coltrane's "Resolution" was a tour de force of musical virtuosity, with Elling and the orchestra embarking on a thrilling sonic journey that pushed the boundaries of traditional jazz. Their dynamic interplay and adventurous spirit kept listeners on the edge of their seats, eagerly anticipating each unexpected twist and turn.

As the concert drew to a close with the timeless classic "Nature Boy," there was a sense of collective reverence in the air. Elling's captivating rendition of the classic tune was nothing short of mesmerizing and left a lasting impression on everyone who experienced his remarkable artistry. In the end, the band and Elling performed "My Foolish Heart" as an encore, receiving thunderous applause from the audience.

The performance overflowed with soul, jazz and energy. Elling's vocals seamlessly intertwined with the band's musicianship, creating a beautiful transcendent experience. The band's exceptional expertise was evident in every note they played. It was an extraordinarily brilliant, sensational show.

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