ShareThis Page
Arts & Entertainment

Review: Kurt Elling avoids traps in paying tribute to Sinatra

| Sunday, May 13, 2012, 12:02 a.m.

p>Tribute concerts can present daunting challenges, but singer Kurt Elling obviously knows how to avoid them.

The reason is fairly simple: he is too good a performer to get caught up doing sappy versions of another person's material. He also is too clever a performer to get trapped by mimicking someone.

He proved both of those points Saturday evening when he closed the regular season at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild on the North Side by doing two tribute shows to Frank Sinatra.

He explained the shows were put together to celebrate the 50-year anniversary of a worldwide tour Sinatra did to raise money for children's charities. He did that by abandoning the big band that was making him famous at that time and hitting the road with a sextet.

Elling is doing much the same, traveling with a quintet and presenting the music both in ways that are close to Sinatra's as well as styles that are more like his own fresh looks at music.

For instance, the set-closing "Too Marvelous for Words" swung along mightily, needing only a big band to make it pure Sinatra. His "Day In, Day Out," though, was a simple statement of the song built around Elling's crisp baritone.

But his versions of "Come Fly With Me" and "Moonlight in Vermont" were more strongly rooted in Elling's creativity. "Come Fly With Me" abandoned the swing of Sinatra and cruised along at a more comfortable piece. "Moonlight in Vermont" has nearly the same approach Sinatra used, but Elling bent some of the notes into bluesier feelings.

Similarly, "April in Paris" was a clear bit of Elling interpretation while "Dancing in the Dark" was more a Sinatra swinger.

In whatever form he was using, Elling showed his great vocal abilities. Not only is his voice rich and strong, but he also is a good scat singer with a fine sense of rhythm and groove. Besides his musical skills, he also has a good stage presence, chatting with the audience and explaining what he is doing.

Elling did not accomplish all of this alone, of course. His band was led by Laurence Hobgood, his piano partner for 17 years, who added fine solos on "Come Fly With Me" and the one non-Sinatra song of the first set, "Dedicated to You." That piece was from Elling's look at the music of John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman.

The band also featured saxophonist Joel Frahm, one of the busiest players in jazz as an accompanist and as a leader. He added great solos throughout the night, but was perhaps the strongest on "April in Paris" when he and Elling traded statements.

That song also featured guitarist John McLean, who offered a solo over which he vocalized in an almost George Benson-ish way.

Concerts like these are more tributes to jazz and all it is rather than homages to a performer.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me