Singer Kurt Elling has been receiving a great deal of attention lately, in part because heis a male jazz singer, somewhat of a rarity these days, and in part because he has been actively and aggressively marketed and promoted.
His appearance at the Jazz Bakery this week provides an opportunity to take a look past the hype and into the music. And Elling's first set Thursday night gave a clear picture of both his strengths and his weaknesses.
He clearly prides himself on his ability to write vocalese lyrics--words and phrases for existing jazz pieces and improvisations. Although it was difficult to decipher many of the lyrics, especially in the rapid-paced words attached to improvised passages by artists such as John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter and Freddie Hubbard, Elling melded words and music with some degree of skill.
That the lyrics rarely communicated in any sort of storytelling fashion--typical of the vocalese of, say, Jon Hendricks--was another issue, their primary interest apparently limited to random bits of philosophical observation.