Photo Credit: Anna Webber
"With his earnest and elastic baritone, Mr. Elling is among the most highly regarded jazz crooners of the past quarter century.” - The New York Times
"For as long as we’ve known Kurt Elling, he has been among our most inquisitive jazz vocalists.” - WBGO
With the release of his GRAMMY® Award-nominated album The Questions earlier this year, Kurt Elling responded to our tumultuous times with a wide-ranging set of music that explored some of humanity’s most timely and timeless struggles. Drawing upon material from jazz standards and American Songbook favorites to contemporary classics by influential songwriters like Bob Dylan and Paul Simon, Elling meditated on the political and the existential, the spiritual and the global.
The Questions, with its soulful melodicism, profound urgency and vigorous swing, earned Elling and his band widespread acclaim, culminating in the singer’s 13th career GRAMMY® Award-nomination. Most importantly, it engaged audiences around the world in the most vital challenges of this staggering historical moment. Now, The Questions LIVE captures that experience through an intimate, compelling performance recorded during the band’s most recent European tour.
A special gift from Elling to his fans, The Questions LIVE arrives just in time for the holidays, a time for families and friends to gather together and celebrate the communal spirit of the season. That spirit comes vividly to life as Elling convenes an intimate London crowd for a short set featuring expanded versions of four songs from The Questions as well as a new piece based on Ben Webster’s bristling “Did You Call Her Today.”
“I’m hoping to not only address this moment of craziness in the world, but also to lift people up about it,” Elling explains. “I’m not a protest singer, though there’s a lot to protest. It’s tough for me to sing from anger, though there’s a lot to be angry about.”
The Questions LIVE opens, as did the original album, with Elling a cappella, reciting the stirring opening lines of Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.” As he relates to the audience afterwards, the song’s litany of poetic horrors feels “as current as it was when it was written.” He goes on to introduce the “hard-won wisdom” of poet Franz Wright, whose words were set to music by pianist Stu Mindeman for the philosophical “A Happy Thought.”
“Politics, death… it’s going pretty good so far,” Elling jokes before turning his attention to that most ever-present of mysteries, love, on guitarist John McLean’s warm arrangement of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “I Have Dreamed.” From finding love to maintaining it, “Every Day You’re Away” adds some romantic advice gleaned from many years as a traveling musician to Webster’s “Did You Call Her Today.” It is, as Elling points out, “an everyday question,” but one that’s just as important to ponder as the big questions posed by this repertoire.
“Maybe the questions themselves are the answers,” Elling muses before concluding this moving set with “Endless Lawns,” which pairs Carla Bley’s music with Elling’s own lyrics, adapted from a poem by Sara Teasdale. It sends the audience, and now listeners around the world, home on an optimistic if wistful note, countering the darkness of the day’s headlines with a welcome dose of hope.
“In the face of this unfolding catastrophe in front of us,” Elling says, “I at least want it known that I’m on the side of compassion, grace and fellowship – not on the side of division, fascism and ignorance.”
That sentiment is amply expressed, certainly, in Elling’s lyrics and performance, which is heartfelt but full of humor, bristling with passion yet ultimately brimming with faith in humanity. But it’s there as well in the collective spirit of jazz, the inspired interactions between Elling and his bandmates: guitarist John McLean, bassist Clark Sommers, drummer Adonis Rose, and, joining the regular band for this European jaunt, pianist and organist Jim Watson. Each one of these gifted musicians are given plenty of space to explore these heady questions in their own voices live on stage.
In the current political climate, Elling says, “the approach of jazz itself is a form of protest. The collegiality, the mutual support, the democratic; everybody gets a say and if you take a single member out there’s an essential ingredient missing. It’s not a complete community until everybody’s in their right and mutually supportive place.”
For Elling, that place is on stage, finding that night’s answers in communion with fellow musicians and rapt audiences. “I’m trying to give the music and the audience the best that I can,” he says, “and be true to the example of the cats who came before me.”
Kurt Elling · The Questions LIVE
Release Date: December 7, 2018
For more information on Kurt Elling, please visit: KurtElling.com
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