Sunday 31 May, Hamer Hall
Most musicians these days fall into one of two categories: those who have mastered technical proficiency on their instrument; and those who are able to connect on a more musical level. It is less common that these two traits are seen in the same place at the same time. Kurt Elling is one of these rare examples. From the moment he walked out on stage, he had the audience’s full attention. Opening with a fresh but tasteful arrangement of Come Fly With Me, Melbourne’s classical elite, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, was transformed into a hard-swinging big band, with some help from Kurt’s regular rhythm section- Mads Baerentzen (piano), John McLean (guitar), Clark Sommers (bass) and Kendrick Scott (drums).
What Elling offers in musical talent, he equals in entertainment value. Despite looking a clear 15 years older than I had imagined, he still carries that extra charm, that suave that makes the women love him, and the men… well… love him too. A couple of tunes in, he brought in the Cuban flavour with an infectious rendition of Si Te Contara- the Cuban rhythms so overwhelming that, despite all her classical training, second violin Freya Franzen was almost bopping out of her chair. He then slowed the pace with Bonita Cuba, a song he wrote the lyrics to after hearing Cuban trumpeter Arturo Sandoval playing the haunting melody as he pined for his home country. Accompanied by Australia’s own John Mackey on tenor saxophone, Elling’s lyrics captured both the mourning of the melody and the romanticism of Cuban culture.
Joined later on stage by Melbourne based Michelle Nicolle, we proved that Australian talent has it’s place with the best, as the two performed Voce Ja Foi a Bahia and Too Close For Comfort with the playfulness and confidence of a collaborative bond that dates back several decades. Perhaps the most enjoyable exchange to witness though, was not that of the leading man, but rather the relationship between MSO conductor Benjamin Northey, and one of the most exciting drummers in the current jazz scene, Kendrick Scott. It was clear from the smiles shot across at each other, that these two were enjoying every minute of what was probably not their usual type of musical interaction.
Finishing with an encore that pulled out all the stops- a lengthy vocalese solo, several key changes and some shredding on the piano by Baerentzen, I think Kurt summed it up best himself when he sang:
Now, let’s get tight and lay it on the line
You do your thing baby and I’ll do mine
And any trip we take will be just fine
As long as I can dig the ride, I’m satisfied