All About Jazz

Home » Articles » Live Reviews

Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...

239

Kurt Elling: Denver, Colorado, April 9, 2011

Geoff Anderson By

Sign in to view read count
Kurt Elling
Soiled Dove Underground
Denver, CO
April 9, 2011

Perhaps it's ironic: jazz wants to be free, yet boundaries abound. Nowhere has a boundary been more touchy or controversial than the line between jazz and rock. Miles Davis blurred it, trounced it, trod upon it, spat on it. And, in some circles, he was vilified; in others celebrated. Still is. You'd think the famous quote from Duke Ellington would put this sort of thing to rest, "There are two kinds of music; good music and the other kind." Why worry about classifications, after all? Just sit back and enjoy, right? Nevertheless, humans persist in their classification mania. Vocalist Kurt Elling's performance Saturday night at the Soiled Dove Underground made clear that he ascribes to the Miles and Duke philosophy, and leaves concerns over artificial classifications to others.

Elling is a jazz cat, make no mistake. But he's not afraid to draw his material from the rock side as well as the jazz side. Whether his material originates on this side or that, it all ends up on the jazz side. His jazz chops are well documented: the virtuosity, the range, the control, the hipster attitude (he uses "wig" as a verb). His repertoire includes a long list of bone fide jazz standards. For instance, Saturday night he sang "Dedicated to You," from one of the most revered jazz albums of all time, John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman (Impulse!, 1962). He also threw in "Moonlight Serenade" and "Nature Boy."

But he also sang a number of rock songs from the '60s, '70s and '80s. His inclusion of Joe Jackson's 1982 hit, "Steppin' Out," seemed particularly appropriate. Jackson came on the scene in 1979, as part of the British New Wave that significantly changed the sound of rock 'n' roll. But it turned out Jackson was actually a jazz guy at heart, as the cover to Body and Soul (A&M, 1984) made clear, recreating a Blue Note Sonny Rollins album cover; or his album of '50s R&B tunes, Jumpin' Jive (A&M, 1981). Saturday night, Elling went back to the '60s, for The Beatles' "Norwegian Wood," and the '70s, for Stevie Wonder's "Golden Lady."

His current album, The Gate (Concord, 2011), includes another cover from the classic rock era, but not one that typically comes to mind when considering that genre. He included "Matte Kudasai," by King Crimson—an art rock band of some longevity, and not exactly a common source of jazz material—from Discipline (DGM Live, 1981). He also included Miles Davis' "Blue in Green." More than anything, this type of material selection shows that Elling has little interest in being tied down to any one category.

The end result of the song selection, the arrangements and the pure vocal talent was something resembling the Baby Boomers' Frank Sinatra. It wasn't just the use of tunes that were standards for that generation, it was also the casual, relaxed delivery and stage presence that was reminiscent of the Chairman of the Board. The biggest difference was that Elling wasn't burdened by the annoying string section of Nelson Riddle's Orchestra. Instead, he benefitted from the considerable talents of pianist/arranger Laurence Hobgood. Hobgood and Elling have been collaborators since before Elling's first album, Close Your Eyes (Blue Note), from 1995. They were of one mind in their arrangements of the jazz standards and rock tunes as well as in performance. At one point Saturday night, Elling finished a scat sequence by holding a high note. Hobgood picked up on that note to begin his solo. It was impossible to tell where Elling left off and Hobgood began. Seamless.

The other band members were equally sympathetic, with guitarist John McLean as a real highlight. Hobgood performed most of the comping duties, leaving McLean to play mainly solos. It was worth the wait, as he painted extended melodic lines that could have been mini-jazz standards all their own. Elling sang a duet with each member of the band which usually involved some furious lick trading.

Elling's latest CD is his tenth. He has been steadily building a following through the discs and consistent touring worldwide. Saturday night's show was sold out. Was that a result of all the CDs? The 16 years he's been on the scene? The Baby Boomer favorites? Maybe. Mainly, it's because of some serious vocal talent and a highly creative approach to his craft which resulted in some pretty good music. Not the other kind.

Tags

Related Video

comments powered by Disqus

Related Articles

Read Tallinn Music Week 2018 Live Reviews
Tallinn Music Week 2018
by Henning Bolte
Published: April 19, 2018
Read James Blood Ulmer and the Thing at Bochum Art Museum Live Reviews
James Blood Ulmer and the Thing at Bochum Art Museum
by Phillip Woolever
Published: April 17, 2018
Read Jocelyn Medina at Jazz at Kitano Live Reviews
Jocelyn Medina at Jazz at Kitano
by Tyran Grillo
Published: April 16, 2018
Read Marbin at The Firmament Live Reviews
Marbin at The Firmament
by Mark Sullivan
Published: April 15, 2018
Read Big Ears Festival 2018 Live Reviews
Big Ears Festival 2018
by Mark Sullivan
Published: April 13, 2018
Read Meg Morley Trio at 606 Club Live Reviews
Meg Morley Trio at 606 Club
by Gareth Thomas
Published: April 13, 2018
Read "Berlin Jazzfest 2017" Live Reviews Berlin Jazzfest 2017
by Henning Bolte
Published: November 13, 2017
Read "BAN BAM: Music Talking" Live Reviews BAN BAM: Music Talking
by Ian Patterson
Published: December 7, 2017
Read "Chris Oatts Quintet at Chris’ Jazz Cafe" Live Reviews Chris Oatts Quintet at Chris’ Jazz Cafe
by Victor L. Schermer
Published: June 26, 2017
Read "French Connections - The Jazzdor Experience" Live Reviews French Connections - The Jazzdor Experience
by Henning Bolte
Published: January 25, 2018
Read "Michael Lington At Blue Note Napa" Live Reviews Michael Lington At Blue Note Napa
by Walter Atkins
Published: October 28, 2017
Read "Kneebody at Johnny Brenda's" Live Reviews Kneebody at Johnny Brenda's
by Mike Jacobs
Published: April 25, 2017