May 20, 2024

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Graceful, logical extensions of the divine Kurt Elling and Charlie Hunter at our US/EU Jazz – Blues Festival 2023: Video, Photos

GRAMMY Award-winner, Jazz vocalist Kurt Elling and Jazz guitarist Charlie Hunter live and big concert at our US/EU Jazz – Blues Festival 2023. Graceful, logical extensions of the divine … Kurt Elling’s four-octave vocal range and easy-swinging style makes him a kind of Sinatra with superpowers.

Kurt Elling is without question today’s preeminent male jazz vocalist, renowned worldwide for his unparalleled virtuosity and flair for trailblazing artistic exploration. From his stunning reinvention of timeless standards to his own captivating original songcraft, the Chicago-based musician has fused his dazzling talents across a panoply of musical approaches, emblazoning each with signature imagination, insight, and emotional intelligence.

 

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With multiple Grammy nominations, two Grammy Wins as well as three Prix du Jazz Vocal, two German Echo, and two Dutch Edison Awards, the storytelling and force of nature Jazz artist is flying high now with a sense of unpredictability.

Their Savannah debut features compositions from Elling and Hunter’s 2021 GRAMMY nominated collaboration, “SuperBlue” as well as works from the team’s soon-to-be-released, “SuperBlue: The Iridescent Spree.”

Kurt Elling started singing as a child in his father’s church choir. With a career now spanning more than 30 years, Elling has performed across the country and around the world with 16 album releases and guest credits on many more.

He’s garnered a long list of industry accolades, including 12 GRAMMY nominations and two wins for Best Jazz Vocal Album (2009, 2021).

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Elling brings his musical prowess to the Hostess City for the first time alongside guitarist and collaborator, Charlie Hunter.

Originally from Chicago, Elling knew early on he had a penchant for music when he sang in the Lutheran choir his father directed. He took to the piano, violin and French horn but always returned to voice and choral performance “even when that was not at all cool.” He liked the music, camaraderie of choir. In college, jazz found him and opened doors for new musical exploration.

He went on to study at University of Chicago Divinity School. As a graduate student, he continued singing, playing gigs and weddings on the side. Ultimately, music won. He left school to pursue jazz just one credit shy of a degree.

For Elling, singing and composing became graceful, logical extensions of the Divine.

As Elling tries to bring the jazz into the funk musically, he is challenged to attempt a similar fusion of “street” argot and sophisticated manipulation of language. Lyrics from “Can’t Make It With Your Brain” suggests his approach.

Kurt Elling: “I was studying this intellectual history map of western thought,” recalled Elling. “A lot of my questions went unanswered. The ghosts and spirits that surround us and how they interact, or don’t, with what we have in front of us became a series of questions that I ask again and again in deeper ways as I grow older. As a jazz performer, the inquiry becomes a way of exploring what notes will come each night, and as composer and writer, what words come through for the highest good. My training in philosophy informs my music as this milieu is suited for exploring these bigger, deeper questions. Jazz lends itself to a profound resonance of questioning that never gets answered.”

In the mid-1990,s Elling met Hunter not long after they’d both been signed to Blue Note Records. Hunter and Elling were in their mid-20s and at the start of careers that would bring them in and out of each other’s orbits and on paths with music innovators Randy Bachman, Buddy Guy, Michael Franti, Branford Marsalis, Stanton Moore, John Pizzarelli and more.

The guitarist and jazz singer remained friends for decades before their first collaboration in 2020.

“I’ve known Charlie for 100 years at this point,” chuckled Elling. “He’s a brilliant player, and we’ve always kept in touch. During the pandemic, he was posting 30-second video clips on InstaGram, and that’s when we got the idea to collaborate. He pulled in these cats from Virginia, DJ and Corey from Butcher Brown. They recorded tracks long distance in their studio — no lyrics, no melody — I came up with those, and that’s how we made “SuperBlue.” We worked similarly for “SuperBlue: Iridescent Spree.”

Elling’s rich, chewy baritone – and his easy-swinging, ring-a-ding-ding delivery on the Great American Songbook – often recalls Frank Sinatra. But his staggering jazz chops turn him into a kind of Sinatra with superpowers. Just when you think he’s at the top of his register, he’ll fly an octave higher; when you expect him to pause and take a breath he’ll find another tank of air and sustain a low note for another four bars; when you expect another instrument to take a solo, he’ll do it himself, taking us on an Ornette Coleman-esque sonic journey around all four octaves of his vocal range.

Just as impressive were opening act the Swingles, the latest incarnation of the a cappella institution founded in Paris in 1963 by Ward Swingle. They’re now a London-based septet who’ve been retooled for the 21st century, with nods to Glee (which they’ve featured on) and Pitch Perfect. Tonight’s set features stunning reinventions of songs by the likes of John Martyn, Elbow and Mumford & Sons, with subtle beatboxing and audacious harmonies. More superhero singing to truly raise goosebumps.

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“SuperBlue: Iridescent Spree,” comprises 10 tracks of jazz and funk fusion. It grooves with grittiness reminiscent of New Orleans’s own funk daddies, “Galactic,” yet it’s refined, cool and spiked with Big Apple, Sinatra-like swagger. The lyrics and melodies are smart, at times conjuring the truth-telling quirk of Mike Doughty and “Soul Coughing.” The overall vibe is upbeat, playful, yet introspective.

The concert’s first single released last month, “Not Here/ Not Now,” is a funky romp about attraction between two people that’s best left alone. The melody moves with precision, its lyrics revealing a deep mind steeped in clever thinking. At different points Elling references mathematical concepts parallel spheres, the fifth dimension as well as 20th century physicist, Werner Heisenberg. It’s fun. And the sass of the horn section adds to the revelry.

Elling also does a sultry cover of “Schoolhouse Rock!” classic, “Naught Number Nine.” His vocal delivery is feisty, velvety, with the push-pull between horns and keys honoring the sophistication of the original tune — writer Bob Dorough would be proud.

And, assisted by a smart band, he completely reinvents songs. Come Fly With Me is transformed into an airborne jazz-waltz; U2’s Where the Streets Have No Name is a slow-burning folk-funk epic; Nature Boy a wordless scat. An old track, Tanya Jean, is a half-improvised vocalese epic, reminding us that he’s a mean Kerouac-style beat poet.

Charlie Hunter: But it’s track four, “Little Fairy Carpenter,” that genuinely haunts in arrangement and progression. Elling’s up-front vocals and sphinxlike lyrics coupled with Hunter’s restrained guitar and overall spacious production, make this song seemingly buoyant. The tune is bright, in major major key with lyrics, “the moment is yours you understand/ don’t second guess just go through with the plan/ just go through with the plan/you’ll either fold or expand,” makes a tempting case that the song is about having gumption enough to risk it all on a goal or desired outcome.

Elling, though, insists it is of much darker ethos: “When writing compositions for straight up jazz, there’s an obligation, expectation in terms of how I approach lyrics,” considered Elling. “But this piece is more influenced by free flow, letting it roll, getting in the groove. This song was written as darkest possible gremlin spirit whispering in someone’s ear. That it can be experienced in other ways is testament to the power of art, creative expression. Once I’ve made something, it is released and free to be interpreted.”

Kurt Elling: “The Jazz Singer” - Jazz Dergisi

Though Elling has visited a handful of times, he’s never performed in Savannah. And he’s eager to share a danceable night of upbeat tunes, maintaining that his flavor of funk-jazz fusion isn’t too intellectual or all in the feels.

“It’s our first time playing in the city, and we’re going to have a good time, meet new people, shake a hand or two,” said Elling. “People should definitely bring their dancing shoes and prepare to leave their troubles behind. When it’s all over, we’re all going to leave feeling great.”

Elling has a supple, pliant voice, so there is no question that he can be expressive in this style. He has a distinct “sound” and one recognizes him immediately. When he does funk, you can hear some Al Green and a little Otis Redding, though I felt that some of the genre’s language and funk-isms were not native to him. Elling has always been careful about articulation and grammar, neither of which funk really cares much about, so it sometimes seemed a bit of an uncomfortable fit. That’s not to say that someone who didn’t have a history of Elling’s music in his head would not find him convincing. His commitment to the music alone would be enough to bring most people along.

We hear singers all the time – perfectly serviceable ones who can carry a tune and sometimes touch our hearts. But it comes as a shock to hear a proper singer like Kurt Elling. The Chicago native is often described as a “singers’ singer”, which suggests a bit of a Joe Satriani-style show-off. But, with Elling, his vocal dexterity, range and agility is always in service of The Song.

Unfortunately, the video is not from our festival, but it was performed with the same composition and the same composition.

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