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Concert Reviews
Kurt Elling
(Michigan Theater, Ann Arbor, MI - April 16th, 2009)

'Dedicated to You: Kurt Elling Sings the Coltrane/Hartman Songbook'

Kurt Elling, Vocals ... With Ernie Watts, Tenor Saxophone; The Laurence Hobgood Trio; Laurence Hobjood, Piano; Clark Sommers, Bass; Ulysses Owens, Drums; And ETHEL - Cornelius Dufallo, Violin; Dorothy Lawon, Cello; Ralph Farris, Viola; and Mary Rowell, Violin

Kurt Elling stepped onto the Michigan Theater stage with the comfortable swagger of the accomplished Jazz Veteran that he has become. He wore a tailored Charcoal Gray suite, and his hipster goatee. Having been nominated for eight Grammy nominations for “Best Jazz Vocal Album” , Mr. Elling gave a Grammy worthy performance.

Opening the set with “All or Nothing at All”, Mr. Elling quickly warmed up the Michigan Theater. Even though the venue lacked the intimacy of Ann Arbor’s, Firefly Club or The Ark, Mr. Elling made the audience feel up close and personal.

Laurence Hobgood displayed his incredible arrangement through-out the evening but truly impressed with the prelude to “Dedicated To You” , by using the terrific String Quartet Ethel to start the piece by plucking the rhythmic melody on their strings, providing the tone for Mr. Elling to showcase his vocal ability.

He sang “Lush Life”, with depth and passion, allowing him to float in and out of the melody, using his amazing ability for improvisation through scatting. Paying homage to those before him, Al Jarreau, Eddie Jefferson, and Jon Hendricks (more on Jon shortly!).

He segued into the story behind the original 1963, John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman recording. Explaining how John Coltrane reached out to Johnny Hartman, saying he wanted to record an album with him. Hartman hadn’t heard of Coltrane playing ballads, so was reluctant at first. After a practice session at Birdland, after one of Coltranes gigs, the realized they were a match. A week later March 7, 1963 the album was recorded in one session, using the Classic Quartet, with McCoy Tyner (piano), Jimmy Garrison (bass), and Pontiac Michigan’s own Elvin Jones (drums).

Two-time Grammy Winner Ernie Watts gave a fiery solo during Autumn Serenade, providing the energy for Mr. Elling to answer with his own brand of singing which made the audience respond with great applause. He even commented on the Energy in the room saying “that it is not always like this”.

The night reached an amazing crescendo with the introduction of his special guest. Being that Toledo OH is an hour drive from Ann Arbor, the stage was graced by the One and Only, Jon Hendricks! Mr. Elling stated that although this was a romantic ballad evening of song, there is no way he could end it on a mellow tone.

The night then became a showcase of vibrant energy, with amazing scatting by Jon Hendricks, and Kurt Elling. You could see the deep admiration and respect held by Kurt Elling for Jon Hendricks, giving constant hugs, and hand-shakes during their performance. This also gave opportunity for the drummer Ulysses Owens,and bassist Clark Sommers to stretch out, and show their chops. During the encore, there was a trade-off between Ernie Watts, Jon Hendricks, and Kurt Elling, within “Bye Bye Blackbird”, that hopefully was recording for a later release.

We were told that this show was previously recording live at the Kennedy Center for release, let’s hope they included tonight’s performance with Jon Hendricks. I am looking forward to the release of the concert CD so I can relive this over and over again!

Thanks you Mr. Elling, come back soon!

Review by: Jim Esnault