Chris Vasquez and I went to see Kurt Elling perform tonight in Santa Cruz. He was incredibly good, as I expected based on seeing him at the Monterey Jazz festival a couple years ago and from live recordings.
Elling was not born with the most beautiful or unique voice, but what he does with it is remarkable. He sings with energy, subtlety and amazing dexterity, often creating melodic and rhythmic lines that work with the rest of the band like an instrumental soloist – as opposed to a vocalist. He has a very sophisticated approach to singing and he makes things that are very difficult to perform sound effortless. I think he’s the best male jazz vocalist alive.
In addition to his vocal talents, Elling is an intriguing and stimulating lyricists too. He works out extended vocal solos with streams of words and poetry that unveil his personal perspectives, beliefs, humor and emotion. In other words, he puts a lot of himself into his work, but you need to hear how he weaves these thoughts with the music lines to appreciate his immense creative power.
One of my favorite songs of his is “Leaving Again/In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning” from the Nightmoves album. In this song he puts lyrics to an improvisation recorded by Keith Jarrett. Truly inspired work. Here is a video from an appearance he made on Swedish TV4 in October 2007 singing this song, followed by an interview. The video incorrectly identifies the song as “Where are you my love?” The song “Where are you” is on the album, but its a different song. Regardless, I’m thankful that this video exists.