(Union Chapel, London. 31 October 2023. Review and photos by John McGloin)
Kurt Elling introduced the show with “Thank you for coming out to hear some disgruntled jazz musicians mid week”. As it turned out, disgruntled couldn’t have been further from the truth.
The band hit the ground running with a couple of tracks from album SuperBlue (“Sassy” and “Dharma Bums”) – extended versions with the American vocalist demonstrating his mastery of scatting. Both numbers were more uptempo, funkier and punchier than the studio versions, especially with the brass section kicking in.
Kurt chatted about how SuperBlue came about because of Covid lockdown and the frustration from not being able to play live. He explained how the project had been written and recorded remotely with Charlie Hunter laying down “clean grooves” for him to expand and write lyrics.
The setlist included songs not written by Elling. One was a soulful version of PJ Morton’s “Sticking to My Guns”. He talked about childhood memories, remembering children’s TV shows like Bugs Bunny and struggles in school with arithmetic, especially multiplication tables. This just served as a segue into a song by Bob Dorough, “Naughty Number 9”, written to help learn the 9 times table! It’s the funkiest 9 times table recital you’ll ever hear, drawing a few wry smiles from the audience.
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Another SuperBlue song, “Manic Panic Epiphanic”, brought the temperature down and was treated almost as a ballad. Towards the end, Elling decided audience participation was needed and divided up parts of the crowd to sing. Charlie Hunter featured one of several solos on his hybrid guitar – a remarkable instrument allowing him to play bass, rhythm and lead simultaneously and at one point popping and retuning harmonics to play a melody.
The Ornette Coleman number “Lonely Woman” featured, with lyrics added by Elling. He made a dedication to Ornette and his family for their musical contribution.
The highlight of the evening was introduced simply as “For Carla Bley”, a wonderfully emotional tribute. Kurt began singing slowly and majestically in his lower register. The song built and rose in intensity through the vocalist’s four octave range until the climax that had the audience on their feet. One of Elling’s finest vocal performances.
After the applause finally died down, it was time to dance, in as much as you can actually dance in between the wooden pews of Union Chapel. An extended funked up version of “The Seed” had the audience moving and jiggling and then it was over.
There was no encore but that wasn’t surprising as Ellling had left it all on the stage. The sound at Union Chapel can sometimes be a bit boomy but not tonight – the sound and balance were good and did justice to the latest instalment of SuperBlue live.
BAND: Kurt Elling (v); Charlie Hunter (hybrid guitar); Marcus Finnie (d); Julius Rodriguez (k), Horn section (2 trumpets and saxophone)