Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 18, No.5, 2019

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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Bernard Dubé
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David Solway
Louis René Beres
Nick Catalano
Lynda Renée
Gary Olson
Howard Richler
Oslavi Linares
Chris Barry
Jordan Adler
Andrew Hlavacek
Daniel Charchuk
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Lydia Schrufer
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Emanuel Pordes
  Past Jazz Contributors

Tommy Emmanuel
John Stetch
Susie Arioli
Coral Egan
Diana Krall
Stacey Kent
Carol Welsman
Aldo Romano
Denzal Sinclaire
Madeleine Peyroux
Bireli Lagrene
Sonido Isleño
Provost & Lachapelle
Kevin Breit
Sophie Milman
Annie Poulain
Badi Assad
Donato & Bouchard
Ingrid Jensen
John Roney
Russell Malone
David Binney
Mimi Fox
Voo Doo Scat
Coral Egan
Martin Taylor
Jordan Officer
Melody Gardot
Jean Vanasse
Yves Léveillé
Sylvain Provost
Louciana Souza
Patricia Barber
Jill Barber
Corrine Bailey Rae
Chet Doxas
François Bourassa
Sylvain Luc
Neil Cowley
Marianne Trudel
Florence K
Terez Montcalm
Cyrus Chestnut
Tord Gustavsen
Sarah MK
Julie Lamontagne
Vincent Gagnon
Arioli & Officer
Jean Félix Mailloux
Becky Noble
Vijay Iyer
Lionel Loueke
Tia Fuller
Cécile McLorin Salvant
Emma Frank
Shai Maestro
Christine Jensen
Vincent Rehel
Kat Edmonson
Jaga Jazzist
Cline & Lage
Fred Hersch
Gregory Porter
Takuya Kuroda
Edmar Castaneda
Donny McCaslin
Kurt Rosenwinkel
Keyon Harrold
Sonia Johnson
Theo Crocker
Rodrigo Amarante
Youn Sun Nah
2010 Montreal Guitar Show (Sylvan Luc)

Montreal Jazz Festival 2010







Piano Keyboard


by Robert J. Lewis

Featured artist: KURT ELLING


It has often been said that his is a generational voice.  The New York Times writes that "Elling (Kurt) is the standout vocalist of our time." 

In popular music and jazz, with the exception of Frank Sinatra, there hasn’t been a better (richer, resonant, brain-balming) voice.  Like with the great opera baritones, the mere vibration excites pleasure centers which become their own reward.  Sinatra was stronger at the top of the scale, in part because he had a better grasp of his limitations (understood what his voice could and couldn’t do), while Elling, in respect to range and interpretation, is decidedly more ambitious, which predicts a more uneven result, but one, which when it works -- and it does more often than not – enlarges the parameters of what is possible in both pop and jazz.  One of Elling’s great achievements is that throughout his career he has not only reworked but transmuted what is otherwise base material (Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me”) into 24 carat gold.

Much of what is exceptional in Kurt Elling was in evidence (in duo with el superlativo Panamanian pianist Danilo Perez) during the 2019 edition of the Montreal International Jazz Festival, which was celebrating its 40th anniversary. 

Elling and Perez, in a musical ballet of the highest order, illustrated that the genre of jazz can be equally resilient and adaptable without a trace-note of affectation (doing something novel for the sake of novelty). 

Along with Fred Hersch (his solo material), Kurt Elling is living proof that jazz can accommodate hitherto unexpressed feelings without resorting to in-your-face dissonance or contrived scaling (a strictly pre-determined sequence of notes) for the sake of originality and its desired effects. 

Like Hersch, Elling allows his music to evolve without any pre-conditions as it concerns the protocols of genre, to the first effect that -- especially his recent work -- his follow-the-muse approach allows for the poetic possibilities in music to find their proper expression.  By poetic I am referring to a combined ability and willingness to concentrate what is ordinarily disparate and dispersed into a singularity that leaves an audience larger and wiser.  “Culture is that which man has in his possession when he has forgotten everything that he has read,” observes the philosopher Ortega y Gasset.

For many years, I was almost embarrassed to admit that I was merely lukewarm toward Elling. His was too much voice (tone) and not enough of everything else;  I was of course accused of not getting it.  But that all changed about ten years ago, with his homage to John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman (2009) in an album entitled Dedicated to You.  Not an uncommon development, as Elling entered his 40s, he was able to much more effectively translate his life experiences into music. 

His concert at Monument National was easily the vocal highlight of the festival -- Cecile McLoren Salvant and Dianne Reeves enthusiasts will protest -- because Elling is to his era what Billie Holiday or Sinatra were to theirs:  simply the best there is in voice and interpretation.    

Any athlete will tell you that playing against a lesser player will have an adverse affect on the quality of his play – just as the reverse holds true.  Has violinist Jaime Laredo ever played better then when teamed up with Glenn Gould to record Bach’s sonatas for violin and piano sonatas? 

I have never heard Perez play so beautifully, so considerately, so sympathetically.  I’m not a fan of creating in live time (one of Vijay Iyer’s relentlessly negative contributions to a genre that invests far too much in improvisation at the expense of composition which is why the standards are perennially alive and ready to supply the deficit), but there were moments in the concert where I suspected both Elling and Perez were winging it, and were astonished by the positive result such that there were a fair number of sequences satisfied the conditions of composition, a rare occurrence in jazz which just happens to accommodate a 99% instant-oblivion-rate in respect to the long and winding solo.

What not only Elling and Perez but all musicians ultimately ask of their fellow musicians is that they bring the best out in each other, which is why what began as a tentative experiment has now evolved into a two year collaboration.  Their exquisite exchanges produced an architecture based on a shared awareness of the importance of voicing that opened up an entirely new way of developing a motif.  Think of four hands working on a sculpture;  the raw material (the Standard) is there, it's final form a work in progress waiting to be brought to completion, with the medium of jazz supplying the spontaneity, adventure and discovery. 

What next for Kurt Elling?  Stay tuned.  The world of music is his oyster, and that, in theory, Elling-willing, should one day include lieder and even opera.  There’s nothing this singer can’t do. 



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