Scottish National Jazz Orchestra with Kurt Elling, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh *****
IN AN era when singers of many different backgrounds like to dabble with jazz and swing, real jazz singers remain at a premium. There are no doubts in the case of Chicago’s Kurt Elling – and saxophonist Tommy Smith’s assertion that he is the greatest jazz voice on the planet needs no correction.Elling has performed in Scotland only once before, and Smith’s invitation to come and work with the excellent SNJO bore rich fruit. Right from the opening song, Joe Jackson’s Stepping Out, both singer and band were in scintillating form.
Jazz standards featured strongly, including SNJO trombonist Chris Greive’s orchestration of Benny Carter’s arrangement of I Can’t Give You Anything But Love and a very different arrangement of Vernon Duke’s April In Paris to the one that is already part of the SNJO’s repertoire.
Elling does not restrict himself to standards. Norwegian Wood received a darker and more dramatic treatment than the original, while a lucidly beautiful version of King Crimson’s Matte Kudasai was one of the high points of the concert.
As well as interpreting lyrics with masterly skill, Elling likes to scat, and brings a genuine improviser’s sensibility to what can be a token business in other hands. The musicians also had ample opportunities to exercise their soloing abilities, with notable contributions from Smith, alto saxophonist Paul Towndrow, pianist Steve Hamilton and trumpeters Tom MacNiven and Ryan Quigley among the many highlights.