03 MAY 11 ANNE FARNSWORTH
A full house greeted jazz vocalist Kurt Elling at the start of a three night run at Catalina's in Hollywood, CA, part of his tour in support of The Gate (Concord Jazz), which has spent the last seven weeks as #1 on JazzWeek's jazz charts. Elling seemed taken aback by the size of the crowd, quipping, "Guess all those calls my mom made paid off."
The Gate is a collection of mostly pop tunes re-arranged for Elling's quartet and his horn-like vocal style. The arrangements are complex and revelatory, bolstering the argument that jazz is an approach rather than a set repertoire.
British singer Joe Jackson's 1982 hit "Steppin' Out" was an early highlight of Elling's set. The original was hyperkinetic and highly produced but had interesting harmony for that genre. Elling's mellower version gives him time to play with the melody notes over the changes, landing on dissonant tritones for a satisfyingly long time.
Stevie Wonder's "Golden Lady," already jazz-like due to Wonder's harmonic vision, and The Beatles' "Norwegian Wood" get rhythmic upgrades with odd meters, adding depth to the originals. Maurice White's "After The Love Is Gone" is slowed to a ballad, showcasing the heartbreaking poignancy of the lyrics.
Elling is fun and playful in concert and leads his band like a fellow musician rather than a singer with a capital S. In my opinion, he's the best of the younger male jazz singers, carrying on the tradition of our two living eminence grises, Mark Murphy and Al Jarreau. He pays homage to Jarreau's percussive vocalizations and takes Murphy's horn-based scat singing into Ornette territory. This is the modern sound of jazz vocals and something not to be missed.
Kurt Elling, from The Gate