What makes a jazz singer a jazz singer? It surely goes way beyond performing jazzy material and dressing in a suit. It must be about phrasing and ‘instrumental’ ability. Gregory Porter, Jose James and Milton Suggs are hitting their straps and there have been strong recent recordings from octogenarians Mark Murphy and Tony Bennett.
But on this showing, Elling is surely the daddy now. His enunciation, variations of vibrato, breath control and expansive range were relentlessly gripping.
Bounding onstage, he quickly staked his claim as the ultimate hipster with velvet jacket, trademark goatee and frequent use of the phrase ‘You dig?’ A lengthy, extravagant mid-gig recitation of Lord Buckley’s ‘Marc Antony’s Funeral Oration’ only emphasised the fact.
A deceptively-straight reading of ‘Come Fly With Me’ kicked things off before ‘You Send Me’ added a sprinkle of neo-soul with drummer Kendrick Scott neatly displacing the groove and Elling stomping on a delay pedal to create some eerie echo effects. He has rightly gained plaudits for his original choice of material and his take on Marc Johnson’s ‘Samurai Hee-Haw’ showed off a mighty range and hitherto unheralded gift for scatting; he seemed to utilise Anita O’Day’s technique of using his surroundings to inspire improvisation.
‘A House Is Not a Home’ was re-imagined as a shimmering tone poem in 5/4 with some Holdsworthesque comping from guitarist John McLean. Pianist Laurence Hobgood’s lush voicings lit up ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’ before Elling’s cry of ‘Anyone wanna hear some Little Stevie?’ inevitably led to the joyous closer ‘Golden Lady’.
A great – and often surprising – night of music. What’s next? Hey Kurt, where’s that version of Wayne Shorter’s ‘Face On The Barroom Floor’ once mentioned in Jazzwise magazine?