And what a show it was!
Now, I am no longer incredulous at that thirteen-year string of DownBeat Critics Poll Awards. As far as I am concerned, Elling is the 21st Century 'jazz' incarnation of the original "Thin Man," Francis Albert Sinatra; the 'kid from Hoboken.' This time the 'kid' is from Chicago; or more poetically, 'the Windy City.' This is no crass comparison of the two men. But there are striking similarities in their artistry and professional miens. For starters, like Sinatra, Elling eschews singing 'silly' songs; he keeps audiences captured with his silver-throated vocalese; singing to each individual's emotions separately. Elling's been called, "a powerful poetic spirit"; for my money, he's a jazz rhetorician nonpariel; deft at turning a phrase, or recounting a tale with a hipness nourished by a glib, articulate sophistication. He knows how to use a microphone, and his body language speaks cool, clear volumes. Elling's strong suits are, an awesome interpretive imagination, and the confidence hewn into a complete entertainer; but his greatest personal quality is his genuine humility.
|Pianist Laurence Hobgood|
|Bassist Clark Sommers|
|Guitarist John McLean|
|Drummer Kendrick Scott|
But Elling is also an essential poetic raconteur for all ages and seasons, able to expound on life with great color and hilarious detail, consider this ultra hip discourse on the vicissitudes of life and living, by way of an introduction to Keith Jarett's soulful, bluesy (Late Night Willie), as Laurence Hopgood's soft, background piano reflections illuminate Elling's musings like shimmering sunlight playing on the multi-colored leaves of Fall. Elling: "...had this not always been the case, that jazz musicians, had worked, back and forth, the defining line of spirits, that acknowledges no difference between, Saturday night, and Sunday morning...and if you really play it right, in life, you can handle it with the same standard...one of the problems, challenges, affronts really, it's an affront to consciousness...you might think that goes without saying...peevishness being without service to consciousness, what I'm talking about is a much deeper experience, I'm talking about the kind of consciousness that you define as having stayed up for upwards of thirty-six hours...you see things differently...now, I know there are some young people here who have not yet really come to a visceral understanding of string theory...I'm here to help you, because you see, when you gracefully swing into the morning after, not having divided up your attention with the all too physical misunderstanding that it is a new day, just because you've missed eight hours of it...you see what I'm driving at...now is always now...right? Physicists on this side of the room, they know the beautiful, dripping pearl of this moment, never to be repeated again, is repeated infinitely, in infinite time and space...and this...and this...and this, but you gotta be awake...now, not only do you have to be awake to come to that level of realization, it may be that you need to be awake, so that you don't miss..IT, that thing that you have been, dreaming of, thinking of, wishing for, perhaps even fighting for...if it gets to be a certain hour, or a given night, and you say, 'oh, I'm just gonna go home and watch the idiots on the idiot box, until I fall backwards into a stupor of ignorance and lackluster thought...' it won't happen, meaning, that special one does not happen in your sleep. Now I have friends who have helped to keep me awake at odd hours, they are the friends indeed, they are the ones, who say, when you say, 'man, I'm just gonna...' they say, 'double espresso for my friend...maybe you think the night is done, but I do not, and I'm here to say that your prints on the scene may end up working out for you, but maybe its your beefed up energy that comes into place and makes my reality come into focus; maybe the two of us together can effect some change, can tip the scales of balance, for a fair amount of goodness for all. Now, if we pass out, the bad guys are more likely to win, if we stay awake and we're present, we could be the vanguard of a whole new reality...so drink up!'" It was on 'Late Night Willie' that guitarist John McLean played the first of two memorable, extended solos that startled the audience with his speed and clarity on the fret, Elling did some of his finest scattin' and Hobgood left no doubt about his virtuosity as a pianist.
Elling took Carole King's classic 1971 heart-stopper (So Far Away) from his new, imaginative CD: 1619 Broadway: The Brill Building Project, presenting it in an intensely deliberate, agonizingly soulful, fully cooked arrangement that took Elling into all the interesting rooms connected to his vocal style, and gave the song an extra layer of emotional torment that added to the memories flooding back into the consciousness of many in the audience. Stevie Wonder's (Golden Lady) was designated as the final tune of the evening, but Elling and the band, with a second bracing guitar solo from JohnMcLean ignited the crowd into a screaming conflagration that demanded an encore. Elling and pianist Laurence Hobgood obliged with a poignant song writen by Carlos Jobim which he sang in Portuguese and includes the stanza:
"Give me your mouth, that wild rose/Give me a kiss, like a ray of sun that strikes your hair/ Your hair that shatters the light into seven strands, like the seven thousand loves that I have guarded ..."
Elling had thrown seven thousand figurative roses and kisses to this audience over the course of the evening's performance, and they showed their enthusiasm and appreciation for his effort and humility with a standing ovation at the end. As I joined them, a thought struck me... Sometimes a quick glance at the 'on stage' performing Elling, returns a flash of the early, chiseled, Sinatra profile... seems like I'll just have to wait for Elling to add 'that hat' to his everyday sartorial persona to be absolutely sure.
Kurt Elling interprets trumpeter Donald Byrd's "Tanya"